After watching the floodwaters inundate portions of Bellevue in 2019, Kat Woerner said she told herself she would never become desensitized to the traumatic events brought on by climate change.
“But I have been,” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student told a crowd gathered on the north steps of the state Capitol on Friday. “And that sucks.”
A warming planet has created more variability in climate, expressed in severe weather events such as the 2019 flooding seen across eastern Nebraska, longer wildfire seasons in the West, polar vortexes that engulf the U.S., and more intense hurricanes that batter the Gulf Coast.
Last month, a report by the United Nations warned that the most dangerous effects of climate change are likely now unavoidable.
Speaking during the Climate Strike, a worldwide movement started by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Woerner urged the roughly 60 local attendees to push for change even as the situation grows more dire.
“We need hope and we need action,” the environmental studies major said.
As one of about 200 events being held across the U.S., the Climate Strike was organized by Embrace, an activist movement seeking to unite Nebraskans behind the idea of addressing climate change started by UNL students two years ago.
Aila Ganic, a political science major from Lincoln, said climate change is a common thread linking a growing number of social issues together, including mental health crises, spikes in immigration and refugees, water conservation and soil management.
“Climate change permeates everything, and we can see it interacting with all of those other issues,” Ganic said. “If we don’t work to mitigate the effects of climate change, all of these other things are going to get worse.”
At Friday’s rally, organizers — students at UNL — asked Nebraskans to push policymakers to address three demands.
First is pressuring the Legislature to pass a statewide climate action plan charting Nebraska’s path forward for addressing the effects of more climate variability.
“We are in the minority of states that is sorely unprepared for climate change,” Woerner said.
Embrace is also calling for a move to regenerative agriculture, which they said would reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also empowering family farms, and shifting toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind over coal and natural gas.
Rachel Hines, a senior applied climatology and environmental studies major from Lincoln, said the group is planning a restart of its activities to engage Nebraskans in the movement after being sidelined for much of the last year during the pandemic.
While college students are generally behind efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change, Hines said more needs to be done to get buy-in from the rest of the state.
“It depends upon getting Nebraskans to accept these demands and putting pressure on people who can implement them,” she said.
Woerner said climate activists should begin by demanding changes of their elected officials, business leaders and community organizers.
"Our solutions have to be equal to the task before us," she said.