Hope Comes from Action

According to the United Nations, “Climate Change is the defining issue of our time.” This idea has led to climate strikes around the world, calling for world leaders to take action. Sweden’s 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg began these strikes in August 2018 and has inspired millions of people around the world to join in her call for stronger and immediate climate action. 

On September 27, 2019, roughly 80 Grebel students, staff, and faculty took part in the Global Climate Strike in Waterloo. Participants from Grebel walked with hundreds of University of Waterloo students, staff, and faculty to Waterloo Public Square, where they joined thousands of other participants in the strike. As they walked, people talked, called out chants, and some Grebel students even belted out hymns. 

Grebel students attending the Climate Strike in WaterlooIn Waterloo, more than 4,000 strikers gathered for three hours of singing, chanting, and speeches. Professor Mark Vuorinen, Chair of the Music Department at Grebel, led the KW Symphony and choirs from Grebel and Kitchener-Waterloo in performing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy with much of the crowd joining in. It was a powerful performance that evoked emotional responses from many of the strikers. Speakers from the Indigenous community, local professors, students from every level of education, and others urged the crowd to make changes on an individual level, to fight for change on a systemic level, and to vote for change in the upcoming federal election. 

Grebel students attended the strike for a variety of reasons. “I was motivated to come to the strike because of my privilege,” said Madeleine Neufeld, a fourth-year PACS student. “Friends of friends have died in floods in Indonesia this past rainy season because of climate change. They can’t speak up, so I will.” 

Rebecca Shelley, a second-year Environment, Resources, and Sustainability student, explained that she normally prefers to work in the background to make change happen, but the importance of this issue pushed her to participate in the strike. “I believe that we are meant to enjoy the world and be stewards of it, not exploit and destroy the amazing gift we have been given,” she added.  

Grebel students attending the Climate Strike in Waterloo“Hope comes from action,” remarked Katie Goerzen Sheard, a second-year student in Social Development Studies. “The actions of people today in KW and all over the world make me hopeful that we can continue to act and make changes towards living sustainably and justly. We have a lot more work, but this strike was a reminder that we are surrounded by others and we can support each other in making change.”

Grebel has a history of early adaptation for environmental changes. Recycling was introduced by students at the College in the 1980s, before the Blue Box recycling program even came to UWaterloo. In the early 2000s, Student Council created the position of Environment Representative on the Larger Leadership Team—a position that still exists today. In 2009, students again took steps to make Grebel greener by initiating the installation of three solar panels on Grebel’s roof to pre-heat hot water. In 2010, the College was the first participant in a highly successful pilot project that tested institutional-level organic waste collection through the Region of Waterloo Green Bin program. 2013 brought UWaterloo campus’s first electric vehicle charging station in the Grebel parking lot, and just last year, a team of five Grebel students applied for and were awarded grants to add a green roof to the College’s current kitchen expansion. 

At an individual level, Grebelites are also making intentional choices. This September, Grebel student Andre Wiederkehr chose to make an environmentally-friendly move back to the Grebel residence. Andre biked the 90km from his home near Mildmay, Ontario to Grebel and towed his belongings in a homemade bike trailer. Andre remarked that he has chosen to bike for an increasingly large amount of his travel over the last few years. “I’m simply doing what I can to live in opposition to the destruction of the world I love,” he explained.

Many Grebel staff and faculty walk or bike to work. President Marcus Shantz often rides a folding bike in combination with taking the new ION train. Rebekah DeJong, Student Life and Recruitment Coordinator, bikes to work and even biked to Grebel’s All-College retreat 60 kilometres away. Rebekah listed a variety of motivations behind her biking, including “the opportunity to appreciate the scenery and reduce my carbon footprint.” 

These small, every-day actions taken by Grebel students, faculty, and staff reflect several of the College’s core values, including responsible citizenship, global engagement, and stewardship of creation. Hope does come from action. Whether participating in a climate strike or biking to work, the people of Grebel are leading lives that inspire hope.