“What do we want?!”
“Climate Justice!”
“When do we want it?!”
“ NOW!”

Marching alongside two hundred people carrying colorful signs and banners, I led the chants, megaphone in hand, encouraging the marchers to get loud and proud.

It was the middle of downtown McAllen, and we were taking part in a historic moment. World leaders were meeting in Paris, France for the Climate Summit in search of a global agreement that would curtail the use of fossil fuels and slow down climate change.

We wanted to bring this goal to the local stage here in the Rio Grande Valley. As a community on the frontlines of climate change because of our susceptibility to the impacts of climate change—drought, strong storms, and sea level rise—we wanted to speak with one voice.

It was November 2015, and I had for two years straight taken an active role as a main organizer of the RGV Climate March as secretary and then as president of the Environmental Awareness Club at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Known as the EAC, the club had been very active since it began in 2004, participating in Rio Reforestation and beach clean-ups, instituting a regular farmer’s market on campus and holding an Earth Day festival. Students from the EAC also worked hard on the campaign to preserve the old-growth forest in the McAllen Nature Center.

Leading up to the march I wanted to feel empowered. I wanted to know that everything I had been working on—my work with endangered species in Thailand and at the Gladys Porter Zoo and the work that the Environmental Awareness Club was doing—was going to make a difference.

I could feel the unison of the people’s voices yelling along side me go straight through my chest. I was making my voice heard with so many strong, like-minded people and that made me feel strength—a strength filled with hope.

Then, as the march went on, I began to notice the people on Main Street watching, from the sidelines. Some were taking their phones out to take pictures, but most were just staring at us. And something startled me: their eyes looked blank.

I was glad we were getting attention; I was glad that people were hearing our cry. Yet I didn’t feel like the onlookers were letting it sink in. As I laid down that night, I couldn’t sleep, instead I saw the events of the day playing through my head, especially the moments where people gawked at us. It seemed they were completely oblivious of the sound of warning we were blaring to them, saying if they don’t become mobile, that what is speeding toward them will be the end.

The next day my voice was shot from shouting, and I felt a deep pride of being there. Yet I wondered if Rio Grande Valley residents and elected officials were going to listen. Do people listen or take action when they witness a march or see a Facebook post or read a startling statistic about climate change impacts?

I don’t know how people can sit by when NASA tells us that global sea levels have risen up to eight inches over the last century and that they are projected to rise three or more feet by the end of the century, inundating our coastal cities. When we find out that McAllen has had a 700 percent increase in heavy downpours over the past 65 years, and that we’re on track to experience many more days over 100 degrees by mid-century, I don’t understand how people can think that climate change is still a topic up for debate.

This year we surpassed 400 parts per billion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 50 more than leading scientists say that we need in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The acidity of the oceans has increased 25 percent over the last two centuries because the ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide. Around the world ice sheets are melting.

When all this information is right in front of us and people aren’t declaring it a disaster and changing the way humans interact with this planet, it infuriates me. Instead of being passive in the light of this information, we need to act, globally and locally.

How do we do this? By getting involved with these local groups in your community you will be showing your political figures that the current policies are not enough in your area. Saying you care about climate change is not enough, your actions have to show it. I know once enough people voice that they care about climate change, then our government officials will too, because we elect them. We are in control and we are accountable. Let’s make this happen.

What do we want?
Climate justice.
When do we want it?

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of guest columns written by students studying environmental studies in a course run by lecturer Stefanie Herweck at UT-Rio Grande Valley. For more information about the environmental studies course contact Stefanie Herweck at [email protected] Click here to view the first guest column, authored by Abbey Palomo.