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Photo by Jason Sibert
Local Sierra Club leader Laura Asher (left) speaks Monday at a climate change vigil at the First Unitarian Church in Alton.
ALTON — Where we live is a dirty place.
That’s what a group of local residents at the First Unitarian Church protesting climate issues Monday night had to say.
The vigil, part of a larger effort in U.S. cities called the 100 City Day of National Action, used speech, cheer and song to demand action from local leaders on climate change. Those who attended gathered outside the church and used solar lights for illumination. The crowd stood in front of an inflatable coal plant in an expression of solidarity, wanting to move beyond fossil fuel energy sources to carbon-free energy sources.
The event comes one year after the People’s Climate March in New York City, where 400,000 people protested the use of coal energy.
“We are calling attention to the urgent need for bold steps in addressing the global climate crises,” Piasa Palisades Group of the Sierra Club Chair Laura Asher said to a crowd that clapped in approval. “The time for change is now. The place for change is here.”
She also voiced support for a positive outcome with the December United Nations climate talks in Paris. The emitting of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change, according to scientists. In addition, Asher spoke of the history of the energy industry in the Riverbend.
“Here in Alton, we are the guardians of the aging Dynegy coal plant,” she said. “This artifact of dirty business stands perilously close to the Mississippi River — the largest waterway in North America.”
The Dynegy coal plant is in Wood River on the banks of the Mississippi River.
“Now is the time to take climate action and make a plan forward for our community,” Asher said. “We are calling on our public officials to stand with us and take action now. Our community is home to an aging coal plant, but coal is being phased out in favor of clean energy every day across the country. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we come together to build a strong clean energy economy in Alton.”
Piasa Palisades Group of the Sierra Club Executive Committee Member Wayne Politsch described Alton as a coal community in transition. He credited coal miners for their work.
“I hope we take time out, particularly in Illinois, for the thousands of miners who have given their lives to harvest the coal,” he said.
Politsch spoke of the miners’ struggle to unionize and fight for better working conditions and questioned the cost of coal.
“For 100 years, our economic system has taken the cheap and dirty pathway,” he said. “We can no longer do that. Coal is cheap, but there’s a hidden cost in terms of the people who live near the power plants — particularly the young and the elderly.”
Keynote speaker Shannon Fuller, president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, spoke of the connection between concerned citizens acting locally but at the same time being part of a global movement for change.
“The biggest consideration that we all have is for this to be a globally implemented movement to abate and prevent further climate change,” Fuller said.
Fuller called for solar energy as a solution to battling climate change and advocated using as many solar panels as possible to generate low-carbon energy. She also supported solar-friendly legislation that allows homeowners to generate their own energy through solar panels.
Edwardsville High School senior Eden Vitoff, co-founder of Green LYFE, a statewide environmental nonprofit organization of high school students, said he and his friends founded the group to “realize the potential of youth passionate about our earth.” Vitoff called on legislators like state Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon), state Rep. Daniel Beiser (D-Alton) and state Sen. William Haine (D-Alton). The high school student strongly condemned the energy industry.
“The facts must be heard about the lies that are spread by those whose priority is their own wealth rather that the well-being of our planet,” he said. “This is something that millennials understand and we’re not going to sit idly as our future is taken away from us. We are the first generation to see the effects of climate disruption and the last generation that can take action to solve it.”
Vitoff said the amount of energy being generated by renewable sources has increased and encouraged leaders to “strive for scientific literacy.”
Godfrey folk musician Nancy Lippincott ended the night with a song celebrating stewardship of the earth by citizens.
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