ClimACT leads rally promoting environmental alternatives


Sam Byrd

ClimACT protesters hold signage outside the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building after being told to leave over “disturbing a meeting” with their chants and demands for more environmentally sustainable university policies Sept. 28, 2022.

Mia Seligman, Enterprise Editor

Student members of ClimACT held a rally Wednesday to bring awareness to environmental sustainability issues they say are presented on campus, and how they say App State has played into this in the past. 

After the rally, a march moved to the B.B. Dougherty administration building, where members demanded an audience to discuss sustainability at App with administrative officials. 

Organizers displayed two lines of clothes, with a message printed on each garment on Sanford Mall. One side displayed dark grays and blacks, the opposite side shared shades of blue and green.

Organizer and activist, Lesley Wells rallying protesters on Sanford Mall, before their march to a nearby administration building. Wells explained this protest signified “exposing the university’s dirty laundry” by spreading word of the handling of environmental matters at an outwardly projecting green university. (Sam Byrd)

“The colorful clothes are what a beautiful, sustainable future could look like,” said Bekah Nielsen, a senior sustainable development major. “One that centers justice.” 

Each colored garment states a positive message regarding sustainability, while the gray showed the statistics representing the current situation at App State. 

“So the idea behind it was airing dirty laundry and that they have done things that they aren’t proud of that they don’t want the average student to know.” Nielsen said.   

Nielsen said ClimACT did the demonstration as a group.

When planning the event, the main goal was to share information and to help people learn about what is happening in regard to App State and climate change, and how they believe campus itself is playing into the climate change issue, Nielsen said. 

Around 30 people showed up for the initial rally at Sanford Mall, and attendance grew to about 100 people once the march started at 1 p.m. Along with members stationed close to the laundry, there were members in charge of using megaphones to broadcast information and statistics.  

ClimACT protesters marching across Sanford Mall in solidarity against environmentally unsustainable policies that they say App State continues to practice and fund. (Sam Byrd)

Attendees included students, alumni, faculty and Watauga County locals, ClimACT states in their recent press release

ClimACT, established in 2018, has been committed to holding the attention of bystanders to discuss climate change in the community and bringing attention to the conversation, according to their media advisory.  

Associate Professor Brian Burke teaches sustainable development and has been involved with ClimACT since its beginning in 2018. 

“The IPCC released a report analyzing the damage that would be caused with only one and a half degrees of warming, and it was far more profound than people realized,” Burke said. “Not just in terms of what people normally think of as sustainability and the environment like parks and nature, but also in terms of the pollution that affects us in our everyday life.”

While ClimACT focuses most of their attention on sustainability and environmental activism, they are also focused on issues such as environmental racism and clean drinking water, Burke said. 

“It’s a chance to change all of our future,” Burke said. 

Burke said the feeling of a diverse community with like-minded people to help create a lasting change on campus drew him in.

Alumna Hannah Cullen majored in sustainable development and helped plan the event. 

“Even though App State is trying, there’s a lot more that they could be doing, but they’re actually stopping themselves,” Cullen said. “We also don’t want to trash and we don’t want to critique, but we want to offer up alternatives and what App could be doing.”

 In the past, ClimACT said they have been denied meetings on this topic, and was asked to leave ten minutes after entering the building, according to their public press release. 

 “App state made us the promise of being a sustainable university,” sophomore Juliette Warren said in the press release. “Yet a lot of what I have seen is it encouraging a culture of destruction and commodification, especially within our local community.”  

Warren has also helped plan events in the past, sharing that it was a “several week process that took a lot of planning.” Warren helped plan last year’s rally, focusing on outreach. 

Among the demands made, ClimACT supporters push for App State to accept fewer students, as they said it puts a strain on both the town and the resources surrounding the campus.

“Climate change is real. It’s coming,” Nielsen said. “So we’re calling people to take action now.” 

Correction: This article has been updated with clarifying information.