After lifetimes of being told to turn off the lights and stick to reusable water bottles, it’s easy to feel hopeless about climate change. Take this week: On Sunday, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization released a new, harrowing report about rising temperatures. Rather than engage with climate strikers across the country, the President tweeted that Greta Thunberg “seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future” (“So nice to see!”). And Facebook photos of devastation in the wake of Hurricane Dorian offered demoralizing, daily reminders that we aren’t prepared for the even more immediate consequences of the climate crisis.
Still, for those who joined the protest at College Park last Friday, it felt like maybe — just maybe — we might still have cause for hope.
With an issue as confounding and urgent as climate change, collective actions like voting and protesting are the closest things we currently have to answers. At a basic, human level, participation in large-scale activist movements is unifying. On Friday, members of the Middlebury community found renewed strength in the knowledge that others were not only worried about, but that they were working on, the same issue as they were, whether that knowledge came from joining the crowds in College Park or pulling up Facebook to find friends from all walks of life clicking “Interested” on the page for their own local climate strikes.
Energy2028 — the college’s four-pronged framework for increasing campus sustainability over the next nine years — similarly was the culmination of years of student climate activism. If upheld, the college’s promises represent enormous, tangible progress.
It seems a bit soon, though, to start patting ourselves on the back.
Self-interrogation, on the part of this editorial board and the broader student body alike, is important. Many Middlebury students (including members of this board) consider themselves self-aware and thoughtful eco-citizens. Yet many of those same Middlebury students have little knowledge of their college’s ecological footprint, or the college’s plan to reduce those footprints, as evidenced by the amount of background research we had to require in composing this editorial.
That is no longer acceptable if we claim sincerity in calling for the kinds of sweeping structural change our climate crisis demands. How can we hold the administration accountable to promises if we have not properly investigated what those promises are? Collective action is crucial; still, it rarely comes about as a result of abstract or isolated, uninformed thought. The UN General Secretary, António Guterres, made a similar point in anticipation of this week’s Climate Action Summit in New York, warning world leaders to leave behind “beautiful speeches” and arrive instead “with concrete plans and strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050.” He closed the summit by providing a comprehensive overview of those concrete initiatives. We need to apply the same substantive standard to climate conversations on campus.
Once we stopped trying to write an editorial telling everyone to drive less and recycle more, the editorial board began discussing the different ways we can use our platform to cover climate activism on campus. As mentioned in our first editorial of the year, we often talk about “holding the administration accountable.” The Campus sees itself as a sort of campus watchdog, and when it comes to an unprecedented emergency like climate change, interrogating the role our institution plays in that emergency is of utmost importance.
To that end, we are committed to publishing more climate-related content (and would love to receive some of that from you, in the form of pitches and op-eds). Beginning this fall, we will be spearheading a special interactive project that will allow viewers to visually engage with the ways in which Energy2028 is hitting the marks — and falling short.
This commitment stems not only from our duty as truth-tellers, but out of our unwavering belief in the importance of collective action. For students, professors and locals alike, that formed a rare, raw moment of solidarity, even — dare we say it — hope.