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People's Climate Day Mixes Entertainment, Education to Form Connections

by on April 29, 2017 4:10 PM

As thousands descended on Washington, D.C., on Saturday for the People's Climate March demanding federal action on climate change and environmental protections, a related but locally-focused event was taking place in State College.

Central PA People's Climate Day brought a festival atmosphere to Sidney Friedman Parklet, South Fraser Street and South Allen Street, with live local bands, speakers, art and educational booths among the activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Elaine Meder-Wilgus, owner of Webster's Bookstore Cafe and one of the event's primary organizers, said the idea for a local event came from Simon Coffin of the Lemont-based StoneGate Audio Engineering in an email Coffin had sent to Meder-Wilgus' husband, local musician Bill Wilgus.

"Simon expressed a frustration with not knowing how to channel his pent-up need to rally against anti-climate change agendas," Meder-Wilgus said. "Simon said 'I don’t know what I can do but I do know how to throw a concert.'"

Meder-Wilgus stepped up to organize the event, she said, "because I know all of these groups who are already doing the work."

Area musicians played throughout the day, with Stacy Glenn Tibbetts starting the morning off with children's songs followed by performances from Jackie Brown & The Gill Street Band, Chris Rattie and Spider Kelly. 

Delivering remarks were State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, borough council member Evan Myers, ClearWater Conservancy director Deb Nardone, environmental activist Elsie Gerhart, Franklin Egan of the Millheim-based Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Heather and Michael Shadow of Bellefonte's Sun Directed Solar Energy Systems. Peter Buckland of Penn State's Sustainability Institute and a Ferguson Township supervisor was emcee for the day.


Booths for community organizations lined portions of South Fraser Street, as well as South Allen Street for Central PA People's Climate Day on Saturday, April 29 in downtown State College. Photo by Geoff Rushton/

Perhaps most importantly for the events organizers, visitors found a vast array of community groups, nonprofit organizations and businesses. They ranged from conservation and environmental organizations to educational groups, food and farming to community building.

"Today was about making connections and a network," Meder-Wilgus said. "I don’t care what political party you come from. We all want clean air and clean water for our families, ourselves, our children and our neighbors. That’s what today was about, people finding each other and finding ways they can become involved. And let’s listen to great music in the meantime."

Among the booths on Allen Street across from the State College Municipal Building, attendees could "Ask a Scientist," where scientists and researchers from Penn State were on hand to answer questions about a wide range of subjects.

And they weren't limited to strictly environmental and climate experts.

Chad Kuny is a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of biochemist and biologist Moriah Szpara. Sporting a nametag that said "Ask me about viruses," Kuny explained that he and his fellow researchers in the lab study herpes simplex 1 and 2, two of the 18 strains of the herpes virus. They are studying the sequencing of the virus and how it changes around the world. 

"Sometimes people get very bad diseases from them. Sometimes people have no symptoms whatsoever," he said, adding that many people don't realize the variety of diseases caused by the herpes viruses, which include chicken pox, mono and several forms of cancer. "We're trying to figure out what causes severe symptoms, and what can be treated."

Kuny said he felt the People's Climate Day was an important opportunity for scientists as well as the general public.

"I think it’s really important scientists communicate with the public at large," he said. "We forget what it’s like to not be around scientists all day. It's whatever I can do to help teach people about what we do and what’s going on at the university and just be out and talk to people about our research which is fun too.

"I think it’s great to have people out to answer questions," he added. "The more people can interact with experts in an area the better. It’s better for the experts and people who just want to learn. While I’m here I’m learning about what everybody else does too. I’m learning as much as anybody else walking by."

Meder-Wilgus said that one aspect of the event was to expose more people to the scientific work being done at Penn State.

"Having a major university we have some of the most amazing climate scientists in the world right here," she said. "We can spread out a little bit of that knowledge to surrounding areas and help people understand there is hope."

Central PA People's Climate Day came together quickly. Coffin emailed Wilgus in February about wanting to take action. Earlier this month the event got borough approval for street closures

"It was fast and furious, but organizations showed up and made it happen," Meder-Wilgus said. "The borough is incredibly supportive. We have a borough that has a sustainability plan moving forward. We’re seeing these changes happen at a local level and that’s what we need to realize. If we’re not going to see initiatives come from the top down, we’re going to push them from the ground up. We have an amazingly beautiful area that we live in and we have to protect it. We’ve got to have clean water and clean air."

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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