The Emory Climate Coalition organized its second climate strike on Sept. 24 to demand systemic changes in Emory University’s approach to the climate crisis. 

About 110 students, faculty and staff demanded the University revise its net zero carbon goal to earlier than its current 2050 target and join the Race to Zero Campaign, which is a global network with various net-zero initiatives that other universities in the U.S. are part of. 

The Emory Climate Coalition is composed of three organizations, including the Emory Climate Organization, Emory Climate Analysis and Solutions Team and Emory Climate Reality Project. Asbury Circle, where the strike started, was full of energy for a Friday afternoon, bustling with students creating posters on cardboards and chalking what climate action meant to them. 

Emory Climate Reality Project’s President Clare McCarthy (23C) and Executive Board Member Catherine Wang (24C), two of the strike’s organizers, said the demands were about “transparency, accountability and urgency.” 

During the last part of the strike, students marched from Asbury Circle to the Administration Building on the quad with their posters, chanting “Climate change is not a lie, we will not let our planet die,” and “No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil.”

Julia Green (25C), who participated in the strike, said she felt frustrated about the disparity she saw between Emory’s verbal commitment to climate change and what is actually being done. 

“I hope that some change will come and that creating protests and making noise will make an impact in the community,” Green said. 

Students created posters in Asbury Circle on Sept. 24, demanding systemic changes in the University’s approach to the climate crisis. (Tiffany Namkung)

Similarly, Saeyeon Ju (23C) attended the strike because she believed that “although it may seem small, [the protest] is how real action happens.”

The University is currently committed to achieving net zero carbon by 2050, a goal that event organizer Erin Phillips (22C) said would “put us a decade behind Amazon.”

McCarthy said this goal was too late and “unacceptable.” Her organization’s research last semester, which was conducted for internal records, showed that the University is a “sustainability leader” but that they still have ways in which they could improve. 

“We identified that [the University’s plan] is extremely outdated, insufficient and vague,” McCarthy said. “Once we identified that and other shortcomings, we wanted to host a big event to show the administration tangible proof that students do care about this and want them to take action.”

For students, the strike’s presence on campus represented more than just an event. 

“It means that I chose a school whose student population genuinely cares about the world we’re living in,” said Addison Wilson (24C). 

Members of the Emory community were not the only strike participants. Several students from Lambert High School in Suwanee, Georgia, who created their own environmental club, joined the strike because it was the only climate protest they could find in Atlanta. 

“We joined together to come here to bring more action to our climate because we know it’s a rising issue,” Lambert High School student Emily Kuhl said. “We don’t know all the information about Emory, but we know that [students] are trying to push the school to put more action, and I think that’s really important. Maybe if I come here one day, I’ll continue to do that.” 

The strike included 10 speakers who have worked toward climate change advocacy. Professor Emeritus in the English department John Sitter, who taught courses in sustainability studies, said that it is up to leading universities like Emory to not only educate students, but also to invest in students’ futures. 

“The answer to why Emory must lead in climate plans is this: If not top universities, who? If not now, when?” Sitter said. 

Emily Burchfield, an assistant professor in the Environmental Sciences department, shared in her speech that she would like to see the University “allocate significant resources to training future generations to think about intentional, resilience, sustainable, just adaptation to the biggest challenge we will face.” 

After the march, conversations branched out to social justice. Emory alumna Johnna Gadomski (20C) who works with the Stop Cop City movement, delivered a speech about corporate threats to both ecological and social justice. According to Gadomski, corporate companies are destroying Indigenous land to support development of police militarization bases, referencing the Atlanta City Council’s recent approval of a new police training facility dubbed “Cop City” by activists. 

“Corporate elites that are making money off of climate change and oppression are paying police to stop our movements for ecological and social justice,” Gadomski said. “Emory has a huge role to play in stopping Cop City and stopping destruction of ecological infrastructure in Atlanta.”

One of many takeaways for participants and organizers was a sense of community. Wang emphasized that “activism is about community and joy,” and they were very thankful for everyone who participated. McCarthy said that she “could feel a sense of purpose among everyone who attended today,” citing the numerous affirming comments she received prior to the event from students and professors.  

McCarthy and Wang said they were “hopeful” about collaborating with the University Administration in the future. 

The Emory Climate Reality Project plans to be in contact with the University Senate committee on environment to draft future resolutions and is also expected to meet University President Gregory Fenves’ administration team to further discuss the campaign. 

Fenves sent a letter to the Emory Climate Coalition on Sept. 21st stating that “For years, Emory has set the bar for what a university can accomplish when it prioritizes sustainability and environmental awareness. But as your message points out, there is still much work to be done and I know that you have ambitious goals in mind. I look forward to talking to you about what we can accomplish together for the benefit of the planet.” 

“This is just the beginning,” McCarthy said. “I hope today was the start of a movement that will continue even after I graduate.”