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Students attend climate march in New York
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To learn more about climate activism, visit the Georgia Climate Change Coalition website.

Kayla Ballenger has been an environmentalist for as long as she can remember, so when she had a chance to attend the People’s Climate March, a march on the United Nations Climate Summit in New York last month, the decision was easy.

“I immediately wanted to go and show my support and get the word out that people in Georgia are interested,” Ballenger said.

Ballenger, an environmental science major at the University of North Georgia's Dahlonega campus, made the 16-hour bus journey to New York with two other students from that campus, Rebecca Glaze and Tucker York, and activists from around Georgia.

Even before they arrived in New York, Glaze said the experience was

eye-opening. She and Ballenger both expected their bus to be filled mostly with other college students. Instead, they found a group that was diverse in age, race, religion, background and even political affiliation.

“There were people of all ages, and probably half the bus was elderly people,” said Glaze. “They were fiery people standing up for what they believed in.”

“All ages, all races, many different religions,” Ballenger said. “Everyone was very enthusiastic.”

Glaze said the march itself was just as diverse, and she was impressed with how well such a large group of people was able to work together.

“It showed that people can come together and fight together even with all their differences,” she said. “We can push for change.”

Ballenger said both the diversity and the sheer number of the participants reflected one of the mottoes of the march: “To change everything, it takes everyone.”

The summit, in which world leaders discussed climate issues, was held Sept. 23 at U.N. headquarters. The march was held by activists at the same time.

The purpose of the march, Ballenger said, was to show the leaders that people care.

“You’re making it known that you want change,” Ballenger said.

In a presentation at UNG, Ballenger and Glaze said some change has already taken place since the march. New York City has pledged to reduce emissions, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Barack Obama have both mentioned the march in U.N. speeches, and a number of investment groups have divested about $50 billion in holdings away from fossil fuels, according to UNG’s website.

Both Ballenger and Glaze said large groups coming together is key to ensuring something is done about climate change.

“It takes more than one person to enact change,” Ballenger said. “It took all of us being together to make a difference.”

“For the most part, it’s gotten so serious it’s going to take the population to make a difference,” said Glaze. “It’s gotten to the point where people have ignored it for so long, it’s going to take the whole world.”

Still, both Ballenger and Glaze acknowledge it is difficult to make activism a priority when most people have so many demands on their daily lives. For Glaze, it’s the demand of classes and homework that makes activism a challenge, but it’s school that got her interested in environmental issues in the first place.

Her eyes were opened, she said, by an environmental studies class she took at UNG last year.

“Before that class, I wasn’t aware really about any of it,” she said.

Ballenger said education and awareness efforts are especially important to a cause where numbers count. The more people who are vocal about wanting something done, she said, the greater chance that it will be.

But those efforts are not always successful in a time when politics surrounding the issue are heavily divisive.

“The biggest problem is probably that people don’t understand what’s going on or they have misleading information,” Ballenger said. But she said the march made her optimistic that people can get past the politics when something important is on the line.

“Seeing how many people were there and how well everyone got along — there were over 400,000 people there and not once did I see any kind of violence. Everyone was really kind-hearted — It was really inspiring and made me feel that change really can happen,” she said.