Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter hosts townhall discussion on climate change


GVL / Benjamin Hunt

Jane Johnston, Editorial Intern

Grand Valley State University’s newly formed Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter held its “Climate Crisis Townhall” forum last week.

The forum drew on the expertise of four members of the GVSU community who specialize in climate or environmental related studies.

While the panelists’ expertise varied in the specifics of their research, they unified behind one message: Humans are responsible for the warming of the planet, but there are ways big and small that we can shift the tide.

Kelly Parker, Director of GVSU’s Environmental Studies program, said the most obvious reason to join the fight against climate change is a selfish one: If climate change will ultimately affect each of our individual lives, shouldn’t we try to save ourselves?

More importantly though, he said, climate change is a justice issue, and we have a moral obligation to help those around us.

“If you believe at all in human rights, then climate change is absolutely an unthinkable threat,” Parker said.

Although first-world countries like the United States and billion dollar corporations are the greatest contributors to CO2 emissions, Elena Lioubimtseva, Chair of the Geography and Sustainable Planning Department, said third-world countries and poor people will suffer the most. Lioubimtseva said that as the world begins combating climate change, communities must not only make sure they create a plan for adaptation, but that those plans are able to help every citizen.

DeMario Johnson, a graduate assistant in the Office of Sustainability Practices, said the GVSU community has been incredibly proactive in combating climate change. According to GVSU’s 2018 Climate Action Plan, the university has cut its CO2 emissions by over 20 percent, and aims to cut it one to two percent each year until 2050.

Despite GVSU’s efforts to combat climate change, the issue still deeply worries many of the university’s students. During a Q&A portion of the event, many students inquired about the sadness they feel about the state of the environment, and asked the panelists’ advice on how to stay motivated.

Sadness is inevitable, Parker said, but we should sit with those feelings, understand why we feel that way and use that understanding to create positive change.

When asked what GVSU students can do to join the fight, GVSU Biology Professor Robert Hollister kept it simple: “The obvious way is to vote,” he said.

Ryan Ruiz, the Eco-Socialist Head of the YDSA, echoed this point in his closing statements. He said the YDSA wants to “shift political power into the hands of the people,” and called on audience members to vote in the Michigan Primary Election March 10. Furthermore, he said, voters need to research candidates’ climate policies and make sure they understand the issue.

That’s why YDSA held the forum in the first place.

“We came up with the idea of a forum where… students could come together and understand climate change and get all the facts they needed to,” Ruiz said.

He continued on to say that the issue of climate change fits neatly into the goals of the YDSA as a whole.

“YDSA’s main goal is to bring about social change through policies of democratic socialism,” Ruiz said. He added that “modern U.S. thinking” centers the climate disaster on the contributions of the consumer.

“Through socialism, we really want to blame — not necessarily blame — but aim the responsibility at who is actually causing it, which is the corporations and the rich,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said the group will spend the rest of the semester campaigning for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who has been nationally endorsed by the organization.