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Fighting for the future

Residents rally against climate change

About 180 people attended the Global Climate Strike rally Friday at Heritage Plaza, inspired by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement. Mirror photo by William Kibler

Like Sept. 11, 2001, Friday was a perfect late-summer day.

And like 9/11, Friday was a day to contemplate catastrophe, according to about 180 rally-goers at Heritage Plaza and millions more around the world on a day designated “Global Climate Strike,” an event scheduled to call attention to a climate summit Monday at the United Nations in New York.

But while communicating the catastrophe that unfolded on the morning of 9/11 required only a few stunning videos, communicating the climate catastrophe that activists believe is unfolding over the lifetimes of people has meant decades of argument and an ongoing campaign against alleged disinformation.

That campaign may be reaching a boiling point because of Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who will address the U.N. and whose name the local rally attendees chanted Friday on the encouragement of local activist and event organizer Steve Elfelt.

One of the quieter participants was retired teacher and high school football coach Tom Irwin, who stood in the shade of the plaza gazebo.

“You awaken to what’s going on,” Irwin said. “And you realize the gravity of the situation.”

While he was standing there, a passing motorist yelled “It’s all a lie.”

But too many scientists say it’s factual, Irwin said.

“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do something,” he said. “Or soon it will be too late.”

He was in Alaska recently and saw areas where there used to be glaciers, and now there is “just dirt,” he said.

“You can’t make this up,” he stated. “It’s happening.”

No, it’s not, said attendee, Bob Nickerson of Cresson.

“I came just to see what the nonsense would be,” Nickerson said.

The “vibe” of the event reminded him of the annual Nuremberg rallies held by the Nazi party in Germany during the 1930s, with climate change deniers like himself playing the role of the Jews, he said — after which he acknowledged that analogy might be a bit of a stretch.

The evidence against the reality of climate change includes data manipulation by scientists, a preponderance of temperature recordings taken in cities, where it’s warmer, and a recent snow in Sweden, the earliest in memory, he said.

It’s all a wealth distribution scheme, he suggested, citing a German scientist.

The science that supports the reality of climate change is unassailable, said physician Meera Bajwa of Hollidaysburg, another rally attendee.

It’s been peer-reviewed, and there’s no doubt about its validity, she said.

Many of the key findings are contained in a succession of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, she said.

The research cited to oppose those findings is corrupt because it has been funded by the fossil fuel industry, she said.

The changes can be apocalyptic: famine, war, pestilence, with just 2 degrees’ increase, according to Bajwa.

“We’re at 1.5,” she said.

Big rises in sea level and more severe storms making coastal areas uninhabitable and desertification making other areas uninhabitable may lead to mass migrations, triggering conflict, while changes is seasonal temperatures can increase the vectors of disease, according to the scientists.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the extraction and burning of fossil fuels over so many years — “not a natural process” — should have afflicted the earth’s atmosphere, just as smoking afflicts the lungs, Bajwa said.

It keeps her awake at night when she thinks about what her children may face, Bajwa said.

People actually shouldn’t listen to the activists, but to the scientists, she said.

People are entitled to their opinions but not to harbor and espouse opinions that contradict established science, she said.

The main target of the event was students, among whom was Altoona seventh grader Owen Vasas, who spent most of the rally sitting on the curb near the plaza mural holding a sign.

He came on his own to the rally, having only recently become aware of the issues.

There’s a need “for more children to be passionate about this, because they’re going to end up needing to fix (it),” Owen said.

Lavender Capenos-Paolucci of Tyrone, 16, was one of the event’s “chant leaders,” having accepted that role upon a teacher’s invitation.

She became passionate about the environment early, under the tutelage of her mother, who took her to rallies, taught her not to litter and encouraged an enthusiasm for recycling.

Lavender first realized that doing nothing about climate change was “not OK” when she learned that “innocent polar bears were dying and drowning,” she said.

The inspiration for Penn State Altoona environmental studies major Kassie Evans came from the kind-heartedness, generosity and environmental awareness of a high school friend’s family.

They took a “zero-waste,” approach to living, she said.

“They were awesome people,” she stated. “I wanted to be just like them.”

Previous generations, Evans said, didn’t think about the impact they were having, she said.

“Now we’re in crisis,” she said.

Action is needed more than hope, Elfelt told the group from the gazebo steps.

Accordingly, Richard Flarend, owner of Groundhog Solar, was in attendance to suggest a way for individuals to take positive action.

“Of course, I look at it as a business opportunity,” Flarend said.

But people eager to do what’s right by the environment can also do what’s personally profitable by letting his firm install solar power systems on their properties, he said.

One recent residential project he completed involved a family taking out a loan provided by his firm with a 15-year payback that will be $70 less than what they were paying for power — after which 10 more years would remain on the system’s warranty, he said.

Samantha Paule, a member of the Blair County Republican Committee, might be expected to share Nickerson’s skepticism, given President Donald Trump’s criticism of the climate change movement.

Not so.

“I’d love to be the first (Blair County) Republican to support protecting the planet,” Paule said. “Just because I support Trump doesn’t mean I can’t support this.”

Unfortunately, “the blue-red fight makes it hard for anyone to cross the line,” she said.

It shouldn’t be political, said Paule, who was a member of the Earth Keepers Club in high school.

“People don’t believe it’s real, but there’s no denying it,” said Alyssa Glotfelty, a Penn State Altoona sophomore from Palmyra.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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