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GREEN PARTY: With week-long climate strike, local students join the call for environmental justice

Student protesters at a climate strike event in London earlier this year. Photo by David Holt

Student protesters at a climate strike event in London earlier this year. Photo by David Holt

 

Writer David Gessner didn’t know he was moving to the center of the climate debate when he left Cape Cod for Wilmington 16 years ago. Best known for his books on environmentalism, including the New York Times bestseller “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West,” Gessner chairs UNCW’s creative writing department. After riding out hurricanes Florence and Dorian, he insists the instability foretold by climate scientists already has arrived. “All you have to do is either take off or land in a plane and look down at the water,” he says. “We’re living in it.”

For the past year, Gessner has served as unofficial advisor to 350 Wilmington. Founded by UNCW creative writing graduate students Lindsay Lake and Noelle Powers, the group is a local offshoot of 350.org, the international movement aimed at ending the use of fossil fuels in favor of community-led renewable energy. Beginning Friday they’ll host a week of climate strike events, including a sustainable tree-planting workshop, the opening of the Plastic Ocean Project’s permanent space and an environment-themed open mic. All events are intended to create urgency around climate change.

Lake and Powers were inspired to start 350 Wilmington after a visit from environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben at UNCW last year. Though McKibben presented sobering facts about humans’ impact on Earth, he left the standing-room-only crowd feeling energized.

“I think his presentation shocked me back to consciousness,” Powers says. “McKibben helped me see, in a very short time, there are people in every part of the world on my side. There are people in my own city, in fact, working to save my life and give us all a better future. How could I not do the same thing for them?”

They’ve also been moved by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has made it her mission to hold politicians accountable for their lack of climate-change action. In addition to this week’s strike, Thunberg is responsible for #FridaysForFuture, a string of viral student climate protests in cities worldwide. (She also was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year.) Last month, she sailed in a solar-powered racing yacht from Plymouth, England, to New York City. She will speak at the United Nations Climate Change Summit early next week.

“The reason I love Greta is the same reason many fear her: She seems fearless,” Lake says. “Many of the environmental heroes in the news are rich celebrities, who say they care about the environment one day, but fly to an environmental conference on a private jet the next. Greta shows us all it’s time to stop making excuses at the expense of nature.”

In just under a year, 350 Wilmington has earned the attention of North Carolina Senator Harper Peterson and has applied pressure to Congressman David Rouzer to support climate legislation. They also have—in conjunction with the undergraduate-led 350 UNCW—joined a movement calling for UNCW to give up its fossil-fuel holdings. If successful, the school would join UNC Asheville as only the second in the UNC system to divest from fossil fuels.

For Gessner, the timing is fortuitous. The author had begun working on a book about Teddy Roosevelt when 350 Wilmington was born and expected to use the 26th president as a model for activism. Instead, he found the younger generation a better model. He cites an essay Lake wrote in his class last spring with helping him see how personal climate change is to younger people.

“I’m encouraged by the activism I’ve seen, mostly from young people and students, in the wake of Florence,” Gessner says. “The rest of us need to get on board.”

350 Wilmington co-directors Noelle Powers (left) and Lindsay Lake.

 

Climate Strike will take place with a host of events all week long. Here is the rundown.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20

Cape Fear March and Die-In
9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Wilmington City Hall, 102 N. 3rd St.

Participants will meet at city hall before marching to the downtown riverwalk. There, they’ll make signs with provided materials, outlining various possible causes of death inflicted by climate change. The event concludes with a “die-in,” in which attendees lie down to simulate being dead.

A Word to Mother Earth Writing Contest

Submissions for both poems and prose pieces inspired by the climate crisis open at 9 a.m. and close Wednesday, September 25 at 5 p.m. Contest is free to enter. $200 cash prize. Details at 350wilmington.org.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

4th Annual Native Plant Festival
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
New Hanover County Arboretum 6206 Oleander Dr.

Get free gardening tips, purchase native plants, tour the arboretum’s gardens, and grab a bite from one of four food trucks. There also will be music, lawn games, story time, and crafts for kids.

Plastic Ocean Project Grand Opening
11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
4709 College Acres Dr.

After UNCW’s Science Building was destroyed in Hurricane Florence, the Plastic Ocean Project celebrates the opening of its new space with a free yoga session with Longwave Yoga at 11 a.m., followed by music, food and drinks, an appearance by “Plastic Ocean” author Captain Charles Moore, and activities for kids.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

Sustainable Tree Canopy Workshop
2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
New Hanover County Arboretum 6206 Oleander Dr.

Learn about tree maintenance, resiliency, and upcoming planting opportunities from arboretum director Lloyd Singleton.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

#EarthFriendlyILM//Rewarding Earth-Friendly Businesses
Join 350 Wilmington in flooding social media (using the hashtag #EarthFriendlyILM) to recognize local businesses making strides to invest in earth-friendly practices. Interested businesses can reach out to 350 Wilmington at info@350wilmington.org.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24

Workshops on the Water
12 p.m. – 3 p.m.

N. Water St., between Princess and Market streets

Take part in a series of short workshops led by leaders in our local environmental sphere. Participants include You Can Vote, Clean Cape Fear, Cape Fear Sierra Club, Dr. Kyle Horton, Alliance for Cape Fear Trees, North Carolina Farmed Animal Save, Wave Transit and more.

Adapting to the Storms: A Conversation About Wilmington and the Cape Fear Region After Florence
6:30 p.m.
UNCW Center for Marine Science Auditorium
5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane

UNCW professors Gessner and Dylan McNamara host Tancred Miller, Coastal and  Ocean Policy Manager for North Carolina’s Division of Coastal Management, for a seminar on coastal resiliency.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25

Voting Registration and Empowerment
12 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Outside UNCW’s Randall Library
5162 Randall Dr.

Register to vote (or help register others) and get up-to-date information on North Carolina’s new voting laws.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26

Paint the Streets for Mother Earth
5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
N. Water St., between Princess and Market streets

Join 350 Wilmington, Cape Fear Sierra Club, Women Organizing for Wilmington, and UNCW’s art department in creating an environment-themed collaborative chalk mural designed by UNCW art students. 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

Open Mic Celebration
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Ironclad Brewery, 115 N. 2nd St.

Sign up to perform music or read writing inspired by the environment (or just watch!) At evening’s end, the winner of the inaugural A Word to Mother Earth Writing Contest will be announced.

To get involved, email info@350wilmington.org, and sign up for news and updates at 350wilmington.org.

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