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Rally to urge climate action

Organizers want local governments to declare emergency

When left-leaning local activist Steve Elfelt told City Council recently of a rally planned for this week to insist on governmental action to counter the heating of the earth, the reception was cool: no council member responded at the time.

Asked at the end of the meeting for comment on Elfelt’s presentation, in which he expressed admiration for Swedish teen Greta Thunberg’s activism over education, Mayor Matt Pacifico said he hadn’t been aware of her campaign, but would learn about it, while Council­man Dave Butterbaugh said Thunberg would have done better to stay in school.

“It’s a hard issue in our area,” said Elfelt, who describes himself as a “climate hawk” — one who believes that swift and coordinated action throughout the world is imperative and catastrophic consequences are forthcoming otherwise.

Penn State meteorology professor and former chief Navy oceanographer David Titley has warned that climate change, being a “conflict multiplier,” is a serious national security concern, Elfelt said.

Elfelt wasn’t expecting a response from council at the meeting, but he plans to return to speak at future meetings, he said.

A small group of adults have organized a Fridays for Future USA rally at noon Friday at Heritage Plaza.

Given the movement’s source of inspiration is a student, they hope that local students will step forward to take over, at which point the adults will step back, Elfelt said.

In “a fortunate coincidence” the students of the Altoona Area and the Hollidaysburg Area school districts are off that day for teacher conferences, he said.

“We are organizing this as adults in support of our children’s and the students’ future,” he said. “It’s the kids who are really going to pay through the nose and suffer throughout their lives if we don’t fix the problems” — which are occurring because human-produced greenhouse gases add as much heat to the earth every second as would be generated by four of the kind of atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, he said, using a comparison first made by a NASA climate scientist in 2012.

The movement’s guidelines for the rally include: no hate, no damage, no violence, no profiteering, no assertions unless based on accepted science and no fossil fuel combusted in getting to the event, if you can help it, Elfelt said.

The local group also asks attendees to try to “make it fun,” even if they’re angry.

The organizers plan to ask local governments to formally declare a climate emergency.

The local group’s Facebook page contains the photo of a poster that reads, “ACT LIKE THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE.”

Greg Williams, a retired environmental studies teacher who’s part of the leadership at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, is helping host a climate-change awareness event at the church the day after the Heritage Plaza rally.

The Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light will present a free movie, “From Paris to Pittsburgh,” a National Geographic production that looks at what local governments have done in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The event includes pizza and a discussion and will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 806 13th St.

The gravity of the climate problem didn’t “come home” to him until after his retirement, when he became a grandparent and realized his grandchild’s future is “endangered,” he said.

“It would at least be different, and perhaps perilous,” he said, citing the recent hurricane that devastated the Bahamas, the one last year that did the same to Puerto Rico and the wildfires in the western U.S.

It seems that “life is changing and not in good ways,” Williams said.

Things can be done to help, but it will take government leadership, along with individuals acting responsibly, he said.

Churches too have a role, he said.

He’s hoping Saturday’s event at St. Luke’s will attract young people, he said.

U.S. government leadership is currently “out of step,” he said.

Thunberg, 16, has become a luminary in the climate change movement, beginning with a solitary three-week strike from her schooling, during which she picketed in front of the Swedish parliament about a year ago.

She is currently in the U.S., preparing to talk before the United Nations in New York, having traveled here in a carbon-neutral sailboat after expressing reluctance to fly from Europe, given the large emissions of carbon associated with jet travel.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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