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Seeking ‘climate justice’

University of New Mexico students and community organizers protest on campus Friday in solidarity with climate strikes around the world, asking the university to combat the climate crisis. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Journal Staff Writer

A group of about 150 University of New Mexico students and community activists marched through campus Friday with banners and posters to deliver a letter to university President Garnett Stokes, asking that the campus transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The letter says “UNM has the opportunity to be on the forefront of climate justice.”

The students are petitioning the university to declare a climate emergency in response to rising global temperatures. They also want the campus to reach 100% renewable energy and zero waste by 2030, invest in education about an equitable transition to renewable energy and eliminate all fossil fuel funds from its financial portfolio by 2025.

The student demands come just a few months after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a plan to provide free college tuition to all New Mexicans. That tuition funding is made possible by the state’s unprecedented oil and natural gas revenue – nearly $8 billion in the current budget year.

But students at Friday’s protest said they don’t want their higher education to be funded with fossil fuel dollars.

“I would rather pay for my tuition than receive money from an industry that is holding hostage our health and our future,” said Keely Scheffler, a Navajo student majoring in journalism and political science. “This letter to Stokes is an invitation to have a conversation about sustainability on our campus and transitioning away from fossil fuels. This is a place to learn, so we’re asking people to learn with us about how to be more environmentally conscious.”

Students applauded the university for its recycling program and for shifting to reusable food containers at its dining halls but said it could do more to protect the environment.

“We’re putting pressure on the university to promote the goals we see included in the Green New Deal,” said Petyr Xyst, a film production major and member of Sunrise Albuquerque, a youth movement which advocates for environmental protections. “In New Mexico, we have a history of extractive industry exploiting our indigenous peoples. I’m not against free education, but that goal can be reached by transitioning to renewable energy, and without placing our lives and our environment at risk.”

The event was organized by UNM Leaders for Environmental Actions and Foresight, the Sierra Student Coalition, Fight for our Lives and Sunrise Albuquerque. It mirrored global climate strikes that coincided with the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid, Spain.

The groups want to meet with Stokes by the end of January to discuss how the university could achieve the proposed goals.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal. Visit reportforamerica.org to learn about the effort to place journalists in local newsrooms around the country.

 

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