Georgia students plan to attend statewide ‘Climate strike’ rallies today

By: and - September 20, 2019 9:04 am

A bill to define the bounds of unpopular speech at Georgia colleges got a hearing in a senate committee Wednesday. Anti-abortion activists and student protesters faced off at the University of Georgia in 2019. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Nicole Pontzer’s anxiety over climate change is old news in her circle of friends in Athens and now hundreds of strangers are about to get an earful as well.

She’ll be the one bringing the new 50-watt bullhorn to the Athens Climate Strike rally at the University of Georgia’s north lawn behind the school’s iconic arch. She’s gotten commitments from hundreds of people to show up for the 5 p.m. event, including Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and other environmental groups, UGA science professors and even a few out-of-state football fans in Athens for the big game Saturday when the Bulldogs host Notre Dame.

So, why did Pontzer go from private grumbler to public organizer?

Nicole Pontzer organized the AthensClimateStrike rally set for 5 p.m. at the lawn next to the University of Georgia’s iconic arch. Contributed by Nicole Pontzer.

“When the Trump administration talked about slashing funding for the Endangered Species Act, I decided to raise my voice,” said Pontzer who works at UGA’s Georgia Museum of Natural History.

Whether motivated by last month’s announcement that the nation’s premier wildlife conservation law will be dampened or other anxiety about the planet’s future, thousands of Georgians are expected to attend rallies across the state today and Saturday, according to the Global Climate Strike website run by the environmental group

Many of the younger demonstrators are expected to cut class to attend the rallies to draw attention to the cause.

Events in Georgia coincide with hundreds of other rallies across the country over the next several days, leading up to a global school-skipping called for Friday, Sept. 27. The growing global strikes trace to 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who drew worldwide attention for skipping Friday classes last year to protest outside Sweden’s parliament. Thunberg recently crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a solar-powered sailboat to attend the U.N. Climate Summit scheduled for Monday in New York.

Students from elementary to high schools are expected to ditch Friday afternoon classes to attend a rally at the state Capitol, said Jairo Garcia, who co-chairs the nonprofit Climate Reality Project’s Atlanta chapter. Garcia said he expects upwards of 600 people to show up from his organization, the youth-led Zero Hour Georgia and other groups.

“We’re supporting young people in their right to strike for the future,” said Garcia, who served nearly two years as Atlanta’s climate policy director. “This is about the future of our kids and the kids of our kids.”

Susan Wehling said she hopes at least 50 people will turn out for a climate strike rally at Drexel Park near Valdosta State University. The Valdosta State Spanish teacher organized the rally online about a month ago after finding the closest global strike to her was four hours away in Atlanta. She hopes students who get out of Valdosta High School early for homecoming activities on Friday will swing by the park to join university students she expects to attend.

“I feel like there’s a growing angst among young people,” Wehling said Thursday. “They are distressed and sort of feeling hopeless.”

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John McCosh
John McCosh

John McCosh, Editor-in-Chief, is a seasoned writer and editor with decades of experience in journalism and government public affairs. His skills were forged in Georgia newsrooms, where he was a business and investigative reporter, editor and bureau chief, and expanded his experience during years in nonprofit and corporate communications roles. For more than a decade at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McCosh investigated state and local government officials and operations. He also tracked regional growth and development with a focus on metro Atlanta’s population-related problems, including traffic congestion, air pollution and water quality. He first learned the power of public records to unlock information when he was a commercial real estate reporter at the Atlanta Business Chronicle. McCosh is a board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and active in the Georgia State Signal Alumni Group, which advises student journalists.

Beau Evans
Beau Evans

Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.