When she talks about climate change, Cara Nastali sounds very proud to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and disappointed in the institution all at once.
Addressing almost 100 people at a climate strike on campus Thursday, the senior began with an acknowledgment of UW-Madison’s “impressive history of environmentalism.”
“Not every school can say that they’ve had alumni as influential as John Muir or professors as esteemed as Aldo Leopold,” Nastali said. But, she went on, “the current environmental progress at this university is falling short of our legacy.”
Nastali is an executive board member of Campus Leaders for Energy Action Now, one group that sponsored the strike. CLEAN and other organizations drafted a proposal to Chancellor Rebecca Blank and the administration calling for a transition to renewable electricity by 2030 and entirely renewable energy sources by 2050, which was delivered to Bascom Hall.
The petition also calls for greater student involvement and transparency about the Sustainability Advisory Council. The council has yet to finalize its membership, but its meetings and listening sessions are open to the public.
"While students are already part of the Sustainability Advisory Council, we are open to expanding their involvement," the university said in an email statement. "Students are central to the work of addressing climate change and we value their knowledge, passion, and dedication to this cause."
Junior Thomas Lavery, who led the attendees in chants, said in an interview that he hopes the university and the Sustainable Advisory Council can increase transparency with the student body. The CLEAN and Next Gen Wisconsin member added that he has seen a "slow but sure groundswell of youth support" for environmental movements that makes him hopeful about effecting real change.
Students gathered at Library Mall to sign onto CLEAN’s demands, as well as support other efforts, including voter pledges with Next Gen and the Teaching Assistants’ Association petition for better workplace conditions.
Madison Memorial High School student Claudia Salgado shared memories of her youth growing up in Honduras, feeling “like I grew up on a different planet from where my parents did.”
“I did not have the opportunity to camp in forests like my uncle experienced with his parents. I did not have the opportunity with my family to swim in lakes as my mother did with my grandparents,” Salgado said. “Our home is being abused and mistreated by our authorities ... This is why it’s urgent to start taking action as our only home needs us the most.”
Beyond university policy, speakers called out Madison Gas and Electric and its gas plant’s energy usage and safety threats.
In May, MGE announced it will reach net-zero carbon electricity by 2050, with input from UW-Madison researchers. Office of Sustainability assistant director Nathan Jandl said the university is in a “complicated place” embedded in the state, but that conversations are ongoing with the energy company to set further goals.
CLEAN’s energy petition outlines “admirable goals” as the university pursues energy conservation, Jandl added.
In October, UW-Madison announced it received a silver rating in its first Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System, which Nastali said was a positive first step for the school. Still, the petition expresses disappointment that UW-Madison is a top carbon emitter among Big Ten schools.
“If we were the worst in the Big Ten for football, there would be an absolute outrage,” Nastali said. “Surely sustainability is at least just as important.”
While students have cited UW-Madison to have the lowest STARS rating and highest carbon emissions among Big Ten schools, not every school in the league has completed the report and others' reports have expired.
Among those who report the statistic, UW-Madison is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions but has reduced them by over 40% in the last decade, "indicating that we are on the right path to curbing our contribution to climate change," according to an email statement from the university.