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Environment & Energy

Climate Activists March from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

A group of 50 climate activists made their way into Pittsburgh from Los Angeles Tuesday — on foot.

The Great March for Climate Action” is the brainchild of former Iowa State Representative Ed Fallon.

He said the idea came to him last February, after a discussion with environmental activist Bill McKibben about how best to address the what he calls the “climate crisis.”

“It’s not an issue; it’s a crisis,” Fallon said.

After nearly a year of planning, Fallon and his fellow travelers set out from Santa Monica, Calif. on March 1, 2014.

He said there were two things that surprised him on his journey. First, that he’d been able to walk every step of the way. Second, that people of every political persuasion agreed there is an environmental problem.

“There’s a tipping point when it comes to climate, and I fear what that might bring,” Fallon told marchers and local activists during a news conference at the Allegheny Unitarian Church on the North Side. “But there’s also a tipping point when it comes to public opinion. When it gets to the point when Americans are united on the need for change, politicians and business leaders will no longer be able to ignore that. I think we’re getting really close. I’m feeling really encouraged.”

Erika Staaf Strassburger, chief of staff for City Councilman Dan Gilman, was on hand to thank the marchers for their efforts.

She said there are many things that can be done on the local level to address climate change.

“Opening up the possibilities for installing more solar power on city-owned buildings to making it easier for Pittsburghers to access to renewable electricity to making our buildings more energy efficient to updating and improving upon the city’s climate action plan,” Strassburger said.

The need for local solutions to global problems was a theme of Tuesday’s event, which was organized by the Thomas Merton Center, a nonprofit group dedicated to peace and social justice.

“When you look across the country, change – whether it’s for $15/hour, or sustainable development or green infrastructure – change comes from local movements and elected officials working together to make change that needs to happen right now, but is just moving too slowly at the higher levels,” said Gabriel McMorland, the head of the Thomas Merton Center’s New Economy campaign.

McMorland tied climate justice to economic and racial justice, and said the growing divestment campaign had led to opportunities for investment in companies that share those values.

“Obviously when you divest from fossil fuels, you still need to have a good financial return and save for the future, so you’re immediately investing in the kind of positive, socially responsible industries we want to see growing in our economy,” McMorland said.

Local climate activists are urging the city of Pittsburgh and the many colleges and universities in the region to divest from fossil fuels. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund recently announced that it would divest from the fossil fuel industry, joining dozens of other cities, educational institutions and organizations across the country.

The marchers will stay in Pittsburgh through Friday morning, when they will continue their trek to Washington, D.C. On Nov. 1, they will arrive at Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, where they will hold trainings on non-violent protest and direct action and will share the stories of those they’ve met across the country during the march.