By Harrison Cann, Pennsylvania Legislative Services | September 20, 2019


Climate activists were joined by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, representatives from PennFuture and the Sierra Club, and other advocates at a climate rally on the Main Capitol steps this afternoon. The rally was a part of a day of global strikes that called for immediate action on climate issues ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit.


Strike organizer Lara Vracaric began by thanking participants for “standing up for our environment” and “calling for changes in environmental protections and emissions regulations.” She then burned sage to honor previous generations and led the crowd in a song.


Jacquelyn Bonomo, president and CEO of PennFuture, stated that the environmental movement “needs a reset.” She asserted that the Trump administration has been successful in removing many environmental protections that people fought hard to enact.


“This is a time of deep loss for the planet, our communities, and all of us here emotionally and psychologically,” Bonomo added. “Let the youth climate movement and today give us a fresh start.” She noted instances of extreme weather and claimed that a “big part of the problem” is Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.


Bonomo asserted that Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas and third largest polluter in the United States. “Every legislator that votes to subsidize the [natural gas] industry, or takes a campaign contribution from gas lobbyists, or spins the false narrative that Pennsylvania can both be part of the climate solution and exploit fossil fuel in our state is complicit in the climate hell that we are bestowing on future generations,” she stated.


Bonomo said it was “unacceptable” that legislators voted for HB 1100 and urged people to give those that voted for it “an earful.” She claimed that other states, such as New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, are working to solve environmental issues surrounding carbon emission and Pennsylvania is lagging behind. Concluding, Bonomo read off the dates for voter registration and elections in the next two years and stressed the importance of electing officials who will address climate change.


DePasquale noted his work in the House of Representatives advocating for renewable energy and claimed that “we have to do more.” He stated that his clean water audit of the Department of Environmental Protection revealed a significant lack of inspectors and reviews to protect the Pennsylvania environment.


“There is, beyond the health and environmental catastrophe, a real financial cost to taxpayers for not taking action,” DePasquale added. “The public is changing on this issue but we need to change this building and Washington, D.C.” He then claimed that his office’s budget was cut by $4 million by the legislature as a result of his audit on the fiscal impact of climate change.


Brook Lenker, executive director of the FrackTracker Alliance, stressed the risks of fossil fuels and their effects on the environment. “Today we gather here and around the world to stand up for our precious climate,” Lenker added. He then discussed previous tragedies caused by extreme weather and stated that the youth movement can prevent further harm in the future.


Behzad Zandeih, chairman of the Harrisburg Chapter of Interfaith Power & Light, stated that he works with any faith and community to stress the importance of taking care of the environment. “We believe that the Earth is one country and mankind is its citizens,” he said. “Wherever we go is our home and we have to take care of it, if not for ourselves we have to do it for our children and grandchildren.”


Zandeih questioned how people can believe a government is not allowed to provide healthcare for every person but is allowed to take land through eminent domain for fracking or pipeline infrastructure. He concluded by calling upon all branches of the government to address climate change and urging the crowd to inform themselves about the candidates willing to create change.


Jill Linta, chairman of the Harrisburg Sierra Club, noted the work of Greta Thunberg in inspiring a global movement. She urged people to educate themselves and join environmental groups, and then to take action by reaching out to legislators, joining or organizing protests, or even run for office themselves.


“It seems like those in power do not even care about their own grandchildren’s futures and they sure as hell do not care about yours,” Linta stated. She concluded by asserting that if one girl’s voice like Greta Thunberg’s can spark a movement, everyone’s voices coming together can change the world. 


Natasha Sood, medical student and climate activist, began by stating that millions of students are striking today “for the defining issue of our generation.” She said that as a medical student, she knows climate change is a health emergency, describing the impacts of communities not having clean water or air.


Sood detailed examples of extreme weather that have crippled communities “for generations to come.” She stated that climate change is “widening existing socio-economic inequalities and disproportionately affecting the health of vulnerable populations.”


She added that the problem is not something that can be addressed 50 or 100 years from now because it is having worsening effects now. Concluding, Sood urged people to strike not just today but every Friday from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. to show the government that it needs to move away from fossil fuels and ensure the survival of the planet.


Rev. Joan M. Sabatino, director of legislative affairs for the Unitarian Universalist PA Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN), stated that “it is time for humans to wake up.” She asserted that if political policies and the human way of life are not changed, the Earth will be uninhabitable. She reiterated that the planet will always survive but humans may not.


Sabatino discussed stories of Native Americans telling the early United States government that the “western ways were destroying the world and that our leaders, policymakers, deciders should turn away from greed” and care for the Earth. “The Earth does not belong to us,” she added. “We belong to the Earth.” Sabatino stated that the Capitol is beautiful but “it is a corrupt place.” She concluded that elected officials need to be reminded that if humans do not take care of the planet, it will move on without them.


Neil Goldstein, organizing director of PA United to Amend, stressed the importance reforming campaign finance laws. He stated that “money has flooded and distorted our political system” and it has resulted in inaction on major social issues, including climate change. He claimed that campaign finance reform is “not a Democrat issue, not a Republican issue, it is an American issue.” Goldstein then urged everyone to support public financing of elections and get money out of politics.


Tom Brier, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s tenth congressional district, began by stating that “this looks like the start of a revolution.” He stressed the power of youth movements, mentioning examples of young advocates throughout American history that fought for democracy, civil rights, and other movements.


“We are the generation that was born into war after 9/11, raised in an age of a great recession, lifted to hope by the nation’s first black president, only to be taken down by our latest [president],” Brier added. “The time has come to act.” He stressed that “there is such a thing as being too late” and began a “yes we can” chant with the crowd.


Neil Leary, director of the Dickinson College Center for Sustainability Education, stressed the imminent issue of climate change, stating that its reach will grow even more without action. “Climate change gives us an opportunity to really transform our world and society and create the world that we want,” he added. “It is not a time for us to despair but to seize these opportunities to do the hard work to get to where we want to be.”

Leary asserted that the most important thing people can do now is to not only demand officials and candidates to act on climate change but to talk to people outside of one’s political party and social circle to make climate change a bipartisan issue.


The rally then continued with additional speakers and a march around the Capitol.