The People’s Climate Action Summit may have operated out of a single floor in the administration building, but its impact went far beyond this boundary. Intended as a follow-up to the People’s Climate March, the summit served as the culminating event in EarthDay2MayDay Week, which consisted of teach-ins throughout the city.
Sierra Club, a nationally-recognized environmental organization, hosted the event as both a gathering for activists and a resource for those looking to be more involved with the environment.
The summit’s most significant takeaway was that environmental stewardship is a much more complex issue than many are willing to recognize. To most people, the climate movement consists of fighting pollution, greenhouse gasses and the exhaustion of resources, which is accurate but does not paint the complete picture.
This point was perhaps best represented by the number and variety of special interest groups in attendance. From local grassroots movements to the Seattle chapters of national organizations, each group advocated for its own specific issues, but collectively they worked towards the same vision.
“This event illustrates that there are many people all working towards the same goal,” said Millie Magner, a representative for the Sierra Club. “Environmentalism is not exclusive; it involves all aspects of our lives.”
Of the groups that made an appearance at the summit, one of the most interesting and relevant to the daily life of students was The Food Empowerment Project. It pushed attendants to reframe their everyday food choices as an important ethical decision, one that not only impacts livestock, but the global environment as well.
In addition to encouraging responsible lifestyle decisions, the Food Empowerment Project also discussed the fact that not all communities have the same level of choice when it comes to food. Researching and reporting the availability of fresh and healthy food in different communities is one of their primary tasks in their efforts to increase food accessibility across the country.
Though the activist groups in attendance provided a variety of printed materials and links to resources, their most visible impact was in the panels they facilitated. These spanned a wide variety of subjects from art and collaborative songwriting to talks on the history and future of the conservationist movement.
A particularly noteworthy part of these presentations was the collection titled “Skill Speed Dating,” in which attendees learned practical skills related to activism. These lessons touched on topics such as staying safe at protests, making effective protest signs and learning to identify media messages.
They provided a hands-on component to complement the more discussion- based seminars and gave audiences something they could use as soon as they left the summit.
“People often see spaces of activism like this as very serious, but they can also be very fun,” said Jess Wallach, a volunteer that helped facilitate the summit. “Here I am able to meet people and build community, so the next time I go to an event like this, it is with people I know.”
The even split of opportunities for education and participation within the People’s Climate Action Summit struck an effective balance and allowed guests to tailor the experience to their needs. The structure of the summit effectively illustrated the variety of approaches one can take to be involved and was arguably the event’s greatest achievement.
Whether one found their calling in research groups like the Sno-King Watershed Council or connected more with the civil disobedience movements of groups like 350 Seattle, the message was the same: whatever your strengths, whatever your interests, there is an outlet for them.
Just as there was no definitive way to get involved with the movement, the event stressed that there is no definitive way of knowing everything about climate change. In other words, the summit is not meant to be the end of the conversation, but rather the beginning.
According to the organizers, the content of the event should inspire people to do research and action of their own, and even share what they learned with others. Just as each of the organizations contributed to making the summit a success, the responsibility now lies on the summit’s guests to take what they learned and apply it.
“Climate change is real science and should be treated with all seriousness,” said Anh Phan, a junior pre-health student. “Events like this can get students to recognize the human components that contribute to the changes in ecosystem.”
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