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CP Photo: Pat Kavanagh

The Youth Strike for Climate Justice rally takes place on Fifth Avenue in Oakland on Wednesday, September 21, 2022.

A student rally and march drew dozens of protesters to Carnegie Mellon University today to demand climate justice as part of this week’s action Convergence of clean energy justice.

The Youth Climate Justice Strike, organized by students from area high schools and colleges, including CMU, the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Youth Climate Council, demanded that local governments and academic institutions stop research on “false solutions” such as hydrogen and carbon storage and disposal, and call on universities to divest from fossil fuel interests.

The action was part of a three-day strike planned in response to this week’s strike Minister of Clean Energy in Pittsburgh, where CEOs, world leaders and activists gather to discuss clean energy technologies. Critics of the event, like those leading today’s march, say the solutions put forward there will “perpetuate the fossil fuel era” and challenge the definition of clean energy technology.

Vanessa Gonzalez-Richener, a 16-year-old student at Winchester Thurston School, was one of the organizers of the day. She came to the rally with a banner signed by her peers, who join her in demanding an end to research into hydrogen capture technology and a move away from fossil fuels.

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CP Photo: Pat Kavanagh

Protester Kelsey McNowl holds a sign reading “Real Climate Justice NOW” at the Youth Strike for Climate Justice rally and march outside Carnegie Mellon University.

Carbon capture is a proposed technological solution to reducing harmful emissions and “decarbonizing” the economy, which would capture and permanently capture the carbon emissions from hydrogen production, clean energy carrier. Critics of carbon capture say the necessary technologies do not yet existmaking carbon capture just a concept, not a plan.

“For the past two years, I’ve kind of been working to help people get involved in climate action, and I’m here representing my school and all these people who signed up, trying to advance a future that my generation and the next generation can live in,” Gonzalez says- Richener Pittsburgh City Paper.

She says she’s frustrated with endless meetings that lead to little or no progress, and wants leaders at the Department of Clean Energy to see the urgency of climate crises through the eyes of young people.

“Because we need to do what we can now,” she says. “We need to involve everyone. While I’m talking to the kids at my high school, we need to get the higher ups involved as well. We need everyone in this, and we need to act fast now.”

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CP Photo: Pat Kavanagh

Ben Hunkler speaks at The Youth Strike for Climate Justice.

Ben Hunkler of the Ohio River Valley Institute shares a similar vision.

“I don’t know about you all, but I’m sick and tired of exploiting fossil fuels for profit,” Hunkler said at the start of the rally, addressing growing investment in the use and storage of hydrogen and carbon.

“Carbon capture actually means more drilling, more pollution, more polluted water and more polluted air,” Hunkler continued. “Carbon sequestration means more sick children. This means fewer jobs for our communities. And that means accelerating climate change by decades.”

In addition to calling for an end to investment in carbon capture technology, speakers also laid out demands to change the way local universities invest their substantial funds.

“We are currently fighting to completely divest the 200 largest fossil fuel companies,” says Pitt student Emma Gray of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition. “We ask members of the Board of Trustees with a conflict of interest to abstain from voting. We demand more transparency in the investment process and the inclusion of the Pitt community in this decision. And above all, we’re asking Pete to reinvest at least 1% of his funds back into those most disproportionately affected by the fossil fuel industry.”

Gray said Fossil Free Pitt representatives plan to sit outside Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s office in the Cathedral from 3pm to 5pm every Friday “until we take appropriate action”.

The protesters were joined by a multigenerational group of indigenous climate activists from several countries, including the Lumi and Navajo, who carried a 14-foot totem pole from their home in Washington state to Pittsburgh for this week’s convergence.

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CP Photo: Pat Kavanagh

Doug James speaks to a crowd outside Carnegie Mellon University.

Cedar George Parker, one of the indigenous activists, addressed the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck carrying the totem pole.

“Before I go to any city, I try to find problems there,” Parker said. “And it really broke my heart. It broke my heart to read about Pittsburgh. I raise my hands for all you guys who are fighting for the lands here. I want to honor you guys.’

Parker emphasized the importance of people taking care of the Earth around them. “We have to [stand up] for the deer, who can’t speak any human language, we have to do it for the killer whales, all the whales, all the birds, he said. – We must stand up and speak for them.

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