Climate activist Greta Thunberg draws crowd of 3,000 at Iowa City stop

Climate activist Greta Thunberg visited Iowa City on Friday, garnering a crowd of nearly 3,000 people with a simple, yet seemingly insurmountable call to action: stop climate change in its tracks.


Charles Peckman

Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks to a crowd of nearly 3,000 community members at the corner of Iowa Ave. and Dubuque St. on Friday, Oct. 4. Thunberg, who garnered international attention with her speeches before the United Nations and United States Congress, encouraged those in attendance to take a stand against climate change.

“We, teenagers and children, shouldn’t have to take the responsibility. Right now, the world leaders keep acting like children, and somebody needs to be the adult in the room.”

Standing before around 3,000 community members and students — yet barely tall enough to reach the microphone — 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg was at the helm of a climate strike on Oct. 4 at the intersection of Dubuque Street and Iowa Avenue.

The strike, which was organized by local students and activists, demanded that the University of Iowa and city leaders to sign an accord that commits to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. This “Town-Gown Climate Accord” also calls for the immediate cessation of burning coal at the UI Power Plant.

Thunberg, who traveled from Sweden to the United States on a sailboat, has attracted global recognition for her often emotional speeches in front of the United Nations, Congress, and crowds of thousands. Since 2018, she has organized and participated in demonstrations at her school and across the world to demand climate action from the Swedish Parliament and other world leaders.

At the core of Thunberg’s speech in Iowa City was a call to action — not only for those in attendance but for politicians, community leaders, and anyone who “values the future” of the planet.

“Last week and the week before that, well over 7 million people joined the climate strikes in more than 180 countries — that is not something you can continue to ignore,” Thunberg said. “We told world leaders to act on the science. We demanded a safe future for us and for everyone. They didn’t listen … no matter what, we need to continue.”

Although not discussed by Thunberg, other speakers — including activist Dawson Davenport and student organizers from City High — called on the university to shut down the Power Plant.

Gretta Thunberg speaks with members of the media after her appearance at the Iowa City climate strike.

On Oct. 1, the Iowa City City Council voted to create a new 11-member Climate Action Commission to advise the council on how to engage the community on climate-related issues. Additionally, the council on Aug. 6 passed a resolution declaring a climate crisis.

The move was applauded by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who said during a visit to Iowa City last month, “When you do things like pass resolutions … [it shows] we have a very short time in which to transform our energy system.”

Although the Oct. 4 event was not the first climate strike in Iowa City — student organizers have hosted the events every Friday since early this year — Thunberg’s appearance certainly garnered the largest audience. Previously, the climate strikers successfully urged the City Council to officially declare a climate emergency.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said resolutions and policies are a step in the right direction, but there is always more to be done.

“Every day, we hear damaging news, depressing news, about all the unfolding damage being caused by climate change,” he said. “Climate change can seem daunting in scale and complex, and one might ask, ‘Why should I do anything if my neighbor doesn’t act also?’ … we need to flip that question around: If we don’t act, who will?”

Following Thunberg’s speech, event participants engaged in 11 minutes of silence, representing the 11 years Earth has before the impact of climate change is irreversible. Although some in attendance left during the silent moments, many attendees looked at the ground solemnly; some even embraced.

As the crowd dispersed and the intersection of returned to its normally scheduled monotony, Thunberg’s words echoed throughout downtown.

“We will go on for every Friday for as long as it takes,” Thunberg said. “We have to prepare ourselves to go on for a very long time, for years. That will not stop us … together, we are unstoppable.”

Interactive timeline: Greta Thunberg’s journey to Iowa City