WEST LAFAYETTE – With climate change more present than ever, high school students across Indiana gathered in West Lafayette Friday to push Indiana’s lawmakers to recognize its impact and advocate for policies to improve Hoosier lives.
Rahul Durai, a leader in the student activist group Confront the Climate Crisis, announced two pieces of legislation to be introduced by Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, in the upcoming 2022 legislative session.
One will be a resolution recognizing climate change and its impact; another seeks to create a climate and environmental justice task force to produce a climate action plan.
“We look to the west and see wildfires; we look to the east and see hurricanes; and we can look right back home and see the devastating effects of the climate crisis hitting our state (with declining) crop yields due to excessive heat,” Durai said.
“Given the crisis our state is facing, we look to our state government and, unfortunately, we see inaction.”
Durai and other student activists spoke to a crowd of over 150 people from across the state after marching over two miles from the West Lafayette Junior/ Senior High School to the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge over the Wabash River.
Alting, the longest serving state senator with 25 years, said he was hopeful that the legislation would pass but knew it might take a few years of repeated effort. When Alting sponsored an elementary student-led bill to name the firefly as Indiana’s state insect, he said it took three years.
“All legislation, no matter how simple or detailed it is, takes persistence,” Alting said. “And this is a little bit bigger than a state insect.”
To give Durai and fellow students a better chance, Alting suggested they meet with several lobbyists, committee chairs, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturing Association, some of whom will also have seats on the task force.
“We’ve got to do something about global warming and we’ve got to do it quick. Indiana needs to get on board,” Alting said.
Even the decision to create a task force, rather than concentrate on one policy, was strategic to get various partners involved and increase the likelihood of future legislation.
“The nature of our legislation is we’re trying to unite all Hoosiers around climate solutions. That’s the idea behind our task force,” Durai said. “It cannot be solved by passing one bill. It’s a systemic issue that requires many different policies over time to be implemented.”
Aanchal Agarwal, a senior at Carmel High School, said that the resolution would be important because it couldn’t be a “tacit understanding anymore. We’ve got to respect our reality and only then can we start coming up with a solution.”
With children in elementary school learning about the impact of climate change from the advocacy group, Agarwal said the movement would continue long after she and others graduated.
“I’m going to graduate (next year) but I have full confidence that the youth of Indiana are prepared to carry the torch into the future,” Agarwal said. “We’re going to start making noise because we need to start the fight for it to ever get anywhere.”
Alting praised the students attending the rally, saying that they would craft future technology and solutions to tackle climate change in a non-political way.
“This is the generation that is going to make a difference,” Alting said. “My generation has failed, the generation before me as well. We want to leave this earth for our next generation and that should never be a political issue.”
To Durai, even if the legislation didn’t move forward this year, the cost of abandoning the cause carried a greater risk than continuing forward.
“We’re not going to give up because we can’t give up,” Durai said. “There are a finite number of years to combat climate change and it just isn’t a possibility to give up.”