FARGO — The youngest speaker at a City Hall meeting on climate change Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 27, was just 8 years old.
Mira Bagu, whose father said she was at first too shy to address the crowd of over 200 people, eventually decided to go up on her own. She urged that action be taken because she's concerned about Arctic ice melting as well as the fate of polar bears and arctic foxes.
"We should stop climate change now and save the world. This is a world crisis," the Fargo girl said.
Her father John Bagu, along with many others, including students from Fargo South High School and Minnesota State University Moorhead, asked Fargo city commissioners to declare a citywide "climate emergency."
Bagu specifically asked Commissioner John Strand, who hosted and organized the town hall-style meeting, if he was in favor of such a declaration and if it could be done before next year's Earth Day.
His response: "Absolutely."
Ryan Livdahl, a Fargo South sophomore, was among the students requesting a city emergency declaration. He said, "I just want to live until I'm 50."
His classmate, Nash Penner, said state and world leaders have "done nothing for so long" and Fargo could set an example as North Dakota's biggest city.
About 50 speakers offered ideas of steps the city could take.
Suggestions included asking Xcel Energy to offer more conservation programs in North Dakota, changing city building codes to be more energy efficient, adding electric vehicle charging stations, planting more trees and pollinator gardens, requiring more energy efficient vehicles and urging residents to install more solar panels on homes.
One speaker urged the city to use the franchise fees it gets from power suppliers of $2 million to $3 million each year for energy projects instead of putting it into the general fund.
Catholic priest Duane Pribula told the crowd to think of the "little things they can do," including using paper straws instead of plastic ones, reusing plastic utensils and not using plastic grocery bags. He also urged people to join local groups fighting climate change.
John Rodenbiker, a Fargo School Board member, told the crowd he would soon be introducing a plan for the school district to reach net-zero emissions by 2030 by addressing energy inefficiencies in the district's 25 buildings, water usage and transportation.
Mike Williams, a former city commissioner, encouraged residents to speak against the oil industry that is flaring off natural gas and sending "billions of dollars into the atmosphere" in western North Dakota. He said if people work together they can see results, recalling that in 2007 the city of Fargo was named the "No. 1 environmental city" in the nation by doing such things as installing more LED lights, buying hybrid buses and tripling mass transit use.
Two men spoke against the speakers urging action on climate change. One of the men said residents should question whether climate change is real. And the other man, city resident Zachary Mead, called the meeting "ridiculous." He suggested the students were trying to be "Swedish" in their climate change speeches, referring to 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
Mayor Tim Mahoney, who joined Strand at the meeting, said the city has been undertaking steps to address climate change. He noted the city's efforts to plant more trees, reduce electricity use in homes and its recycling program.
Mahoney said a facility manager has been hired to identify ways to save energy in city operations. He also noted the city's landfill is the only one in the state that harvests its methane gas for use as fuel.
The mayor also said the city is looking at better ways to detain water in drainage ditches and use the water in ecological ways.
Strand, who was so impressed with the turnout and the numerous young people in the crowd, said he was taking pages of notes about the suggestions on what could be done. He sometimes quipped, "This is great."
"We don't want this to be a show of words, but we're embarking on a new journey," Strand said.
Mahoney added, "John and I want a sustainable city for our children and grandchildren, and we think Fargo can be an example for the nation."