Climate activists take the fight to Madrid

A small contingent from Seven Generations Ahead to travel to UN Climate Summit on Dec. 1

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

On Sept. 20, a few hundred Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School students converged on the school's athletic field, joining millions of young people around the world for a Global Climate Strike. The mass demonstration was designed to demand that the adult leaders take the necessary actions required to reduce the world's carbon emissions before what most climate scientists consider to be the point of no return.  

In the middle of the crowd, Laura Stamp — a Brooks teacher who heads up the school's Ecology Club (also called the Eco-Eagles) — stood with a megaphone and emceed a brief rally featuring several student speakers, who struggled to get through to their distracted classmates. During the rally, a few dozen adult community members looked at the demonstration through the field's fencing. 

When it comes to action on climate change, the rally may be a microcosm of the village, the nation and the world — a small group of really focused people straining to be heard, to force action through a swell of distraction and disinterest while the interested minority look on. 

"I just don't think we have the will right now to fully understand the sense of urgency," Stamp said in a recent phone interview. "How do we create that sense of urgency? That's what I'm going to be talking to people about." 

On Dec. 1, Stamp will chaperone her daughter, Oak Park and River Forest High School student Rosalyn Beile, on a weeklong visit to the UN Climate Summit in Madrid, Spain, where they hope to get some ideas to bring back with them. 

"We'll be interviewing delegates, activists, people from all over the world to get a sense of what they've been doing about climate action," Stamp said. Beile, who was traveling out-of-state on Monday, was unavailable for comment. 

"The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [the United Nations' body of scientific experts tasked with thinking about climate change] has basically said that we have to avoid a 2-degree increase in temperature to stave off severe, severe draught, hunger, extreme weather events, death and a significant, systemic shift in climate that might be difficult to pull back from," Stamp said. "We have close to 11 years to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent, according to the science and we need to reduce emissions to zero by 2050."

Gary Cuneen, the founder and executive director of the Oak Park nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, is also going to the summit. The trip, he said, is part of the nonprofit's PlanItGreen initiative and the It's Our Future effort. 

PlanItGreen is a comprehensive environmental sustainability plan for Oak Park and River Forest while It's Our Future is a program designed to equip young people in the area to advocate for climate solutions. Stamp is on It's Our Future's adult leadership team. It's Our Future won a $50,000 grant during the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation's Big Idea competition earlier this year. 

Cuneen said that the grant will help fund the trip to the summit, where they'll have an opportunity to connect with other activists and thought leaders in the climate arena. 

"We know that Greta Thunberg, who has catalyzed the world with her climate advocacy, will be in attendance," Cuneen said. "We're hoping to have an opportunity to connect with her at some point." 

Stamps said that she looks forward to bringing back some ideas on how to build on the work she, her daughter, Cuneen and other local environmental leaders have already done, which includes advocating for zero carbon practices in District 97 schools. 

"I think maybe we're so inundated with messages, we don't know what to do," Stamp said. "I try to teach the kids that small efforts add up. There doesn't seem to be an issue at Brooks that climate change is real; it's more of a paralysis of how do we go about making the changes we have to make." 


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