Ten MU students attended the “Forward on Climate" rally Sunday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The rally, hosted by environmental advocacy groups 350.org and the Sierra Club and human rights organization Hip-Hop Caucus, was held to convince President Barack Obama to reject further construction of the pipeline.
The ten MU students — all from the organization Coal Free Mizzou — traveled 16 hours by bus with groups of students from colleges throughout Missouri. The students paid for the trip themselves with assistance from the Sierra Club, said Hunter Maret, a Coal Free Mizzou leadership team member.
“We’re motivated by the mission to forward climate preservation on campus,” Maret said. “This is the biggest climate rally ever held, and it’s a way to show President Obama that you care and can make a difference.”
The Keystone XL Pipeline would stretch 2,000 miles from Canadian oil sands to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico and carry more than 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day into the U.S., according to a Feb. 17 New York Times article.
Junior Kelly Koch said she jumped at the chance to attend the rally.
“We have seen our current oil operations fail,” Koch said. “It is not a matter of if the pipeline will spill oil - it is a matter of when. We can all remember the BP oil spill and what a catastrophe that was. We can’t afford to allow the opportunity for more oil to poison our country's resources.”
Maret said the rally was, simply, very inspiring.
“The festivities got started around noon on Sunday,” Maret said. “There were a lot of guest speakers: Bill McKibben, Native American tribes from the U.S. and Canada and the head of the NAACP. It was really great to hear everyone speak.”
Guest speakers also included clean energy investor Tom Steyer, environmental activist Mike Brune, civil rights activist celebrity Rosario Dawson and Hip-Hop Caucus President Rev. Lennox Yearwood, according to the 350.org website.
The rally was the largest climate rally in history with numbers around 40,000, according to 350.org. Missouri students made up more than 100 of the attendees, Missouri campus campaign organizer Adam Hasz said in a WeArePowerShift.org blog post.
“The rally felt like being surrounding by about 50,000 people all vying for the same cause with the same energy at the same time,” Maret said. “It was surreal. There were people all the way from the Washington Monument to the White House, and they were almost entirely surrounding the White House.”
Two photos of the Coal Free Mizzou group tweeted by Maret were retweeted by celebrity activist Mark Ruffalo.
“He’s a very avid climate activist,” Maret said. “Maybe not a scientist or anything, but he’s able to make things happen because of his celebrity status. Whenever we have an event or go somewhere, we have what’s called a ‘social blast.’”
A social blast is when an organization sends out tweets, photos and other social media to a variety of celebrities, politicians and important groups to gain visibility.
“It feels amazing to have someone as popular as Mark Ruffalo retweet us,” Maret said. “He believes that we need to act now.”
Koch said she is hopeful Obama will reject the pipeline proposition.
“In his inaugural speech, he made a comment that leads me to believe he understands the urgency for clean energy sources,” Koch said. “If we keep degrading our natural resources, the health and well-being of the human race will suffer.”