As the UN Climate Summit began, this Kalamazoo teacher’s hunger strike ended


Credit: Joshua Gottlieb

On Wednesday, October 27, 2021 a group of students joined Joshua Gottlieb to protest against climate change and the lack of government action.

Hannah Locke, Editor in Chief

Joshua Gottlieb is a physics teacher at Kalamazoo Central High School. On Monday, Oct 25, Gottlieb began a week-long hunger strike to raise awareness for climate change and protest the changes being made to the climate agenda in Biden’s infrastructure bill.

Gottlieb was stationed outside of the school, on Drake Road, for the majority of his protest from 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Wednesday. He spent Thursday and Friday teaching in his classroom before returning to his post at 5 o’clock that evening. On Saturday, from noon to 4 o’clock p.m. Gottlieb was joined by members of the Sunrise Movement who inspired his strike in the first place.

Throughout the week, he only drank water and took unpaid leave for the time he spent outside of his classroom.

Gottlieb’s strike continued through Sunday, Oct 31, the day on which the UN Climate Summit, COP26, began.

“COP26 is a global climate conference starting this Sunday, and it would have been great for President Biden to be able to show up in a position of strength and leadership for the United States,” Gottlieb said, “but instead the roughly trillion dollars that was earmarked for climate change mitigation efforts has been taken out of the reconciliation bill to appease Senator Joe Manchin.”

Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia vehemently opposed the climate provision of the infrastructure bill that would force utilities to stop burning coal, oil and gas and instead turn to green energy. West Virginia’s economy depends on the coal industry as they are oil and gas producers and Manchin himself founded a family coal brokerage from which he makes a half a million dollar annual profit, the New York Times reported.

This ban on oil, coal, and gas emissions that Manchin blocked may be the federal government’s last chance to reduce planet-warming emissions before the consequences of climate change become irreversible.

“One thing I hope to achieve is to encourage anyone who can exert any possible leverage on President Biden, on Senator Manchin or any of the other senators to try to get that trillion dollars put back into the reconciliation bill,” Gottlieb continued.

“I am also following the lead of some young people from the Sunrise Movement who are currently hunger striking outside the White House everyday to make the same point, and I wanted to support them and show solidarity with them because right now, unfortunately, young people know what’s going on and adults are not doing our part.”

The Sunrise Movement is a “movement to stop climate change and create millions of good-paying jobs in the process,” according to their website. Five people from the organization began their hunger strike on Oct 20 and will continue to do so until the Biden administration and Democrats “pass the fullest possible federal legislative effort to combat the climate emergency.”

According to Meghan Mahajan of Forbes, economy-wide emissions under the climate agenda of Biden’s infrastructure bill could be cut by 828 to 1,090 MNT, create 506 thousand to 744 thousand new jobs, and help to prevent 36 hundred to 43 hundred premature deaths and 100 thousand to 136 thousand asthma attacks, all by 2030. These improvements would be unprecedented and offer hope for future generations.

“I will not be able to look my students and my children in the eyes twenty years from now when they turn to me and say ‘why didn’t you do something? You knew and there was still time, why didn’t you do something?’” Gottlieb said, “And I need to have an answer for them. I need to be able to say that I got in the fight, I showed up to the fight.”

As an educator and a parent, Gottlieb feels it is his responsibility to at least try to enact change on any level he can and inspire his students to do the same.

Gottlieb said, “I want to demonstrate to my students what it means to take a stand, to accept some level of sacrifice. I’m not being paid this week — I’m uncomfortable this week, and to show up and fight for something that you believe in. My hope is that many of my students will feel empowered to do the same and the good news is that when they do show up to the fight they’re much better at it then I am. Young people have a whole lot of power in this, but it is unfair because they shouldn’t have to fight.”