Greta Thunberg appearance at Climate Strike expected to draw thousands

Roads will be closed in Iowa City today to accomodate for the crowd of expected thousands here to listen to environmental activist Greta Thunberg speak.



Climate activist Greta Thunberg, right, speaks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference on Sept. 23, 2019 in New York City. (Kay Nietfeld/DPA/Zuma Press/TNS)

Kayli Reese & Brooklyn Draisey

Like something out of a young-adult fantasy novel, a 16-year-old girl has recently emerged as the voice of a generation crying out for change — and she will visit Iowa City today.

Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, has garnered global recognition as an environmental activist. Since 2018, she has participated in demonstrations at her school and across the world to demand climate action from the Swedish Parliament and global leaders. Her actions have inspired other student strikes, culminating in a Global Climate Strike Sept. 20 in which the Iowa City community participated.

Thunberg is now traveling throughout North America and will head toward Santiago, Chile. This week, she made stops in Montréal, Ontario, and Chicago.

Iowa City climate strikes have taken place every Friday since early this year when a group of high-school students started the call for action. The strikers issued an open letter to University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld Sept. 27 to demand climate action from the university.

Thunberg wrote in a tweet Oct. 2 that she’s taking part in this week’s Iowa City Climate Strike, which run from noon to 1 p.m. today at Dubuque Street and Iowa Avenue.

“We anticipate thousands of people — who knows, maybe it’ll only be 10 -—but I would bet against it,” Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said about Thunberg’s upcoming appearance at an event Oct. 4.

According to an email from the Bernie Sanders campaign, Thunberg and Iowa City activists will call for the immediate closure of the University of Iowa’s coal plant.

Student organizers Massimo Biggers and Alex Howe said they never thought the strike would come this far, let alone attract the “most influential climate striker” in the world, Howe said.

“Greta has actually followed our strike for … many months because here in Iowa City we’ve had a ton of victories, and she’s realized that,” Biggers said.

The city of Iowa City has issued a release saying the location of the climate strike changed from the Pedestrian Mall to accommodate the crowd size.

Beginning at 6 a.m., Dubuque Street from Jefferson Street to Washington Street will be closed, as well as Iowa Avenue from Linn Street to Clinton Street. All closed streets should be open by 4 p.m.

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 do better outreach and engagement in regards to the issue, Throgmorton said on Oct. 4.

The council also unanimously voted to pass a resolution declaring a climate crisis, pledging to take increased action on climate change.

“I want to give a shoutout to the student strikers such as Massimo Biggers for putting pressure on us, in some ways — alienated us temporarily — but they put pressure on us to take more ambitious and effective action,” Throgmorton said. “Because of that, [they] played a major role in emphasizing the importance of acting now.”

Biggers said he’s happy Iowa City is listening to the students who are striking. He noted the group has received no response from the UI administration to its open letter.

“Everybody is … finally acting on climate change,” he said.

Hopefully, Howe said, Thunberg’s visit to Iowa City will prompt the UI administration to listen to the group’s demands.

RELATED: Iowa City Global Climate Strike march demands climate action

The UI Student Government and Graduate & Professional Student Government passed a joint resolution Sept. 24 to fight climate change. While UISG President Noel Mills said the resolution hasn’t been sent to members of the UI administration yet, the student leaders have spoken to Harreld about campus sustainability.

“I think we have shown time and again that this community is willing to change, and we’re looking forward to becoming more sustainable in the future,” Mills said.

One UI initiative she said she’s excited about is the possible public/private partnership between the UI and a private firm to run the university’s utility system. Whichever firm is chosen, should the UI proceed with the partnership, would have to meet the sustainability goals the university has set. The UI plans to eliminate all coal use by 2025.

“Obviously, it’s good to be committed to eliminating coal by 2025, but I think with this public/private partnership, we have an opportunity to do even better,” she said.

UISG Sustainability Director Emily Manders said she is excited to see the UI explore biomass fuel.

“I feel like every university in the United States, in the world, has opportunities to look into sustainable avenues,” she said. “… We should continue going and trying to see how we can become a sustainable, unique university that people want to come to because of our sustainability, our awareness of climate change and such.”

Manders said she is excited that Thunberg, someone she admires, will visit the community to call for change.

“People who might not be as into environmentalism or know what climate change will probably want to go to this event or even hear about it and actually maybe have their eyes opened more to the coming impact of climate change,” she said.