IRON RANGE — A movement more than 150 countries strong made history this week as communities on every continent joined in the Global Climate Strike, landing squarely in front of Hibbing’s City Hall and the St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia on Friday afternoon.
The climate strike was a call to end the age of fossil fuels with a worldwide rally cry of: “The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we.”
Many of the strikes across the globe were drummed up by young people who strategically organized demonstrations one day ahead of the Youth Climate Summit, which was held Saturday at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, followed by the United Nations Emergency Climate Summit, slated for today. The Summits call for government, business and civil leaders far and wide to address what has been called a “global climate emergency” by event organizers.
According to un.org, “Global emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of peaking. The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security.”
Their solution? Embracing the Paris Agreement, which lays policy framework that aligns with measures that experts believe could end the ongoing climate disruption and possibly reverse its impact altogether. By acting now, many scientists wager that society can reduce carbon emissions within the next 12 years and halt the increase in average global temperature to below 2°C or possibly pre-industrial levels at 1.5°C.
To try and get their message across, communities around the globe formed demonstrations of support on Friday, making headlines in places like lower Manhattan where 60,000 marched the streets and in Berlin where police estimated 100,000 showed, according to the New York Times.
Homegrown strike in Hibbing
In Hibbing, a group called Champions for Sustainability organized an hour-long strike in front of City Hall. The words “The oceans will rise, and so will we!” were sprawled across their Facebook page in the days leading up to the event. The group, which was formed in March by Candy Reimer, Jennifer Hoffman Saccoman, Jackie Prescott and Angela Schweiberger, arrived early and welcomed those who wandered in. Throughout the lawn signs were scattered that read “Hand the plant to our kids,” “Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce or refuse,” and “Climate change,” among others.
In recent months members of Champions have hosted a citywide clean-up, adopted the road leading up to Hibbing’s Hull Rust Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine View and have reached out to other sustainability groups to try and garner ideas for future initiatives. Reimer told the Hibbing Daily Tribune as she watched participants slowly filter in that their hope was for a dozen folks to show. In no time, they had more than double that amount.
Minutes into the start of the strike, local musical duo Rob and Jill — made up of Rob Wheeler and Jill Burkes — set up in the grass and began performing original music as a crowd filled with educators, business owners and community residents of all ages began to mingle. Some sat on blankets, listening while others held signs and discussed the importance of switching from plastic bags to reusables, ditching straws and the age old art of composting.
Standing out from the crowd was Allisha LaBarge of Hibbing — or Lish for short— who arrived wearing a shirt that read “Defend the Sacred.” She, along with friend Seraphina Gravelle had red hand prints painted over their mouths and set out signs that said, “Water is life” and “Planet over profit.” LaBarge told the HDT she is Native American and the daughter of two tribes, including one in North Dakota as well as Fond du Lac. “I stand here for the missing and murdered indiginous women because that is such a common thing in our indiginous communities or in our small communities,” LaBarge said.
She shared that she and her fellow “sisters” have experienced traumas after projects like pipelines have set up camp near reservations and indiginous women were “raped, abused, beaten, assaulted or they don’t return.”
“So we have these lost and these stolen sisters,” she said. “Or if they do return, they’re so messed up that we don’t have the ability to give them the help that they need to get better, so there’s a high suicide rate.” Tearing up, her words caught as she continued, “There are finally laws starting to pass and people are starting to notice us. There’s no numbers I can give you, so we just have to show up with our presence and say ‘This is what’s happening.’”
The climate strike was a great platform, she said, because she was there to protest for-profit projects that poison the earth. “Mother Earth is a life giver and we need to sustain ourselves because as indiginous women, we are life givers too. We give birth to children and give them everything they need to nourish themselves on this planet, so we hold very closely to water and Mother Earth.”
The music continued and at one point, organizer Angela Schwieberger invited everyone to take off their shoes and feel their feet on the earth and hold hands.
“Just taking a moment here to just realize that we have to share this planet, not only with the folks that are here but the folks in the houses and buildings around us, citywide and rippling out in all directions.” Schwieberger continued, “There are climate strikes happening all over the world and we’re part of that effort and it’s just really tremendous that we all showed up.”
As the hour wound down, Reimer was all smiles, telling the HDT, “I think this is amazing. What I wanted was just a peaceful gathering and that’s exactly what it was.” She added that she was happy to see such a diverse group in terms of backgrounds and ages and that several people left with new ideas for fostering sustainability.
East Range demonstrates
Roosevelt Elementary students filled the playground in Virginia Friday after their lunch. They laughed and yelled as they played with classmates, enjoying the warm day and the unusually vibrant fall leaves — effects of unseasonable warmth and high rainfall recently seen throughout the region.
A few students stood at the fence and read signs held by adults and children across the street on the corner of the courthouse lawn. Cars drove by and honked, encouraging the strikers. Among them, Cassandra Hainey, who told the Mesabi Daily News she hoped their presence would pique the interest of the kids watching. “Sometimes you feel like you can’t do something, but you can always participate and learn about things important to you, no matter your age.”
Beside Hainey and her children stood a group residents and representatives from Congregations Caring for the Earth who helped organize the event. Hainey’s son, fifth grader Corbet Hainey, was about to return from a class trip to the school forest.
“I had not planned on being here but my kids convinced me,” Hainey said, holding 1-year-old Cephas as 4-year-old Sefira hugged her leg. “I told them about this climate strike and Corbet and Khepra really wanted to come.” She pointed out 9-year-old Khepra and smiled. “They can’t vote but they can speak. I am here so that they can be here.”
Hainey’s father was a logger and they are pro-mining, but she admits they can see the effects of climate change.
“We live on a small farm and are very aware of the shorter, harder rains and longer dry periods,” she said, noting that they’ve had to adjust their livestock’s grazing rotation. Grasses lack protein and are not getting the sun essential to fattening up livestock for winter.
Fred Schumacher, a retired farmer, chimed in, “Grass phenology is 95 percent correlated with growing days. I could see the effects of climate change starting back in the 1980s. Harvest dates have been creeping earlier… plants for warmer climates are coming into our region.”
Schumacher pointed to the growing number of Maple trees in the area, trees that have not always been so prominent in the region.
Becky Gawboy who was standing nearby agreed, saying that when they moved in 1984 to their 100-acre farm in Kugler Township (outside of Tower), there were no Maple trees but now there are 50-60 thriving in the same area.
“Oak are moving in, too,” she continued, “and new insects, too.”
When Gawboy moved to the farm, which had been around since the 1800s, they were told that the last frost was around June 10 and first frost around Aug. 15. Now, those dates are May 23 and Sept. 9, respectively.
“Our last frost was June 6 this year and it hasn’t frosted yet this fall… The new species of plants and animals are all results of longer growing seasons with warmer winters,” said Gawboy. “It is climate disruption.”