BHS community attends ‘Unite the Fight’ climate summit

On October 12, Berkeley High School’s “Unite the Fight” climate summit was held at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA Teen Center, with 35 BHS students in attendance.

Students at the summit

Emilia Frelich

On October 12, Berkeley High School’s “Unite the Fight” climate summit was held at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA Teen Center, with 35 BHS students in attendance. The event was organized by senior Ella Suring, junior Zaia Bachrach, junior Shanza Syed, literature teacher Aryn Faur, librarian Meredith Irby, and BHS vocational specialist and Individualized Education Plan case manager Karis Taylor.

According to Bachrach, the summit was intended to bring together BHS students who have expressed an interest in climate change action to come up with a set of feasible actions that they can take to address the issue. She added that the name “Unite the Fight” was chosen to unify passionate climate groups and students on campus and emphasize the change that BHS can achieve as a community. 

“We really want to analyze the work that we’ve done at BHS in the past, and how to think critically about how we can move forward in a way that’s more effective,” Bachrach said. “Also (considering) the intersectionality of climate change and everyone’s interests,” 

Bachrach spoke about the concept of intersectionality, which describes how different interests and social issues connect to climate change. An example is how low-income residents and people of color tend to live in more polluted areas, with more oil plants and water pollutants, causing health problems. 

The summit consisted of group discussions about climate advocacy, as well as guest speakers, such as BHS’s Native Student Union (NSU). Topics discussed include the intersectionality of climate change, the effects of extreme weather on our land and planet, different climate organizations around the Bay Area, future events at BHS surrounding climate activism, and ways that students can be more involved in the climate movement. 

Raina Ivanova, a youth climate activist and member of the UNICEF Youth Council of Germany, also spoke, describing her past experiences with climate activism, and how students can get involved with climate actions at the local and global level by finding a specific part of the climate crisis that interests them. 

“Start a conversation, a climate education program, or a climate strike,” Ivanova said. “Also advocate for climate policies and join an organization.” 

Ivanova stressed the connection between social justice and climate advocacy, explaining how one can fight environmental racism, which is defined as the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. 

Hannah Estrada, an organizer for Youth vs Apocalypse and another guest speaker, also commented on how the climate change movement is especially important for marginalized communities, presenting graphs of the air quality where people of color lived and other quantitative connections between race and environmental justice. 

Aniya Butler, a spoken word poet and a member of the Youth vs Apocalypse, shared a poem about the connection between people of color and climate change and talked about the different Bay Area organizations and platforms that BHS students can use. 

According to Butler, the campaign “No One is Disposable” will mobilize for direct actions for intersectional climate and environmental justice. Additionally, Butler described how the California State Teachers’ Retirement System organization is trying to divest all California teachers’ pension funds from fossil fuels by passing a bill and getting teachers to pressure the state and board members. 

“We are not asking for sympathy,” Butler said. “We are demanding action against the climate crisis, action against brutal border control, action against police brutality, action against every single oppressive system and activities that are killing marginalized communities.” 

BHS seniors and members of the NSU Rita Azul Huhndorf-Lima and Emiliano Santana-Thoele also presented on the effects of climate change on their native land, Native-led groups in the Bay Area, and the construction of Line 3 and the Dakota Access Pipeline, which violate the treaty boundaries set in North and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. 

“California Natives used to use controlled fires or burns both to care for the land they inhabited and for religious purposes. It was cultural practice and beneficial. But since 1850, it has been illegal for California’s indigenous people to practice controlled burns,” Santana-Thoele said. “Since then, California has become known for its drastic fire seasons, and within recent decades, it has only gotten worse thanks to climate change. Our fire seasons have become longer, fires burn more land, kill more animals, and displace more people.” 

Bachrach reflected on the possibilities of connecting different personal interests to the climate change movement, given the intersectionality it holds. 

“If you are someone that loves art, think about how you or the art that you create can help fight against climate change, and that way you can get involved in climate change in a way that you feel passionate about,” Bachrach said. “Remember that every unique voice matters, and we need that uniqueness to actually drive this movement.”