We’ve all heard how daunting climate change is and, regardless of what we do, the situation is hopeless. I challenge those who use these perspectives as justification to relegate climate change, the moral issue of our time, to the back burner. For inaction, too, is a choice.
The problem is not that we are lacking the information, resources, or intention to take on climate change. The problem is that we lack the initiative. Therefore, my greatest fear is not climate change itself but our blasé attitude and passivity in the face of climate disaster. Preliminary meetings with the Associated Students of Pomona College, the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, the Committee on Social Responsibility, and the Board of Trustees confirmed my fear. In spite of having engaged in decent conversations, I left feeling a sense of frustration. In the meetings, the conversation started with morals and values and quickly moved into dollars and cents. Sure, dollars and cents are important, but let us not lose sight of the very reasons that we should divest now and why we have divested in the past. In the 1980s, a nation-wide divestment movement represented our standing with the oppressed in South Africa. It was about empathy, human lives, and about living out the ideals toward which we aspired. Today, divestment from fossil fuels is about far more than dollars and cents; it is our generation’s mandate to start connecting with rather than destroying the earth and to stop engaging in practices that are threatening and killing human beings. To do so cannot continue to be considered acceptable. Until the American public begins to see the unremitting extraction and burning of fossil fuels as immoral, business as usual will continue.
It is also important to remember where we are standing. To the communities who live by the coal plants in Texas and West Virginia, by the Superfund sites in the Inland Empire, near fracking sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania, on the Keystone XL pipeline, in the Alberta Tar sands region, and in New Orleans after Katrina, to name just a few, climate action is not about dollars and cents. Climate action is a demand for clean air, clean water, safe jobs, and sustainable living conditions—basic human rights. So to be focusing so narrowly on dollars and cents speaks to how far detached and removed we can get from the magnitude and the realities of climate injustices and the implications of our actions.
Throughout this divestment process, I have begun to understand that we, the student body and a younger generation, cannot expect anyone to take on climate change for us—not our parents, the Board of Trustees, our student senate, or our national government. Sure, Exxon, Chevron, and Shell are continuing to drill, baby, drill without any regard for land, air, sea, or humanity, but we are also each complicit in creating climate change and the resulting injustices. Therefore, we must each take full responsibility for our actions and work to shape a just future for all. I call on you now to take initiative with boldness and conviction. In Dante’s words, “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral crisis.”
It’s time to stop thinking about what we cannot do and instead do what we can. Individually, we can choose to act, and together we are powerful. At this point, concrete steps such as reducing our individual carbon footprints or the college’s carbon footprint are insufficient. What the United States lacks is initiative on climate action and awareness of the implications of continued inaction. Therefore, we need a shift in social consciousness as well as infrastructure in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Divestment is the best way to get the ball rolling on both of these fronts, right now. Divestment has succeeded in the past and can succeed now. Divestment is our generation’s call to action. Divestment is our generation’s mandate for a just future.