At Pomona College, the Environmental Is Political

Last Thursday, Pomona College President David Oxtoby announced to the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (PACS) his goal to make the college carbon neutral by 2030. The decision was communicated to
the student body the next morning, a turnaround time only slightly longer than the time it took to notify students of the college’s decision in September not to divest any of its endowment from fossil fuel funds. That had been announced to the Committee on Social
Responsibility just a few hours before an email notified the student body. 

It is better to achieve carbon
neutrality—the offset or removal of all greenhouse gas emissions—by 2030 than by 2050. But if we agree with the 97 percent of climate scientists who say climate change is happening and fast, we should never have considered 2050 from the start.
According to state projections, the California coastline will be 16 inches
higher in 2050 than it was in 2000. Nine generations of Pomona students will
have run in and out of the gates by that time. Offsetting carbon dioxide emissions by 2022, the date recommended by PACS, would have been difficult, but I think
we’d be surprised by what we could achieve with the fifth highest per-student
endowment in the country.

acknowledge that divestment is expensive, and carbon neutrality by 2022 is a challenging goal, but I have to wonder: At what point will Pomona choose to take a strong stance on climate change? In the divestment announcement, Oxtoby
wrote, “I look forward to continuing our constructive campus dialog on [climate
change] and to collaborating with students, faculty and staff to find effective
ways for Pomona to be an active part of the solution.” Yet no alternatives to
divestment were provided, and I have not seen evidence of this collaboration. Furthermore, I
think action—not dialogue—should be the goal.

The divestment campaign at Pitzer College had progressed on the same trajectory as the one at Pomona, but reactions at the two schools have been markedly different. The Pitzer
Board of Trustees responded with the creation of a Climate Action Task Force consisting of
students, faculty and staff members, and trustees to promote collaboration between the
Pitzer community and the board. Pomona, on the other hand, announced the decision not to divest and put an end to the conversation. 

failing to address the systemic causes of climate change, we are ignoring the
responsibility we have as a privileged institution to protect frontline
communities. Climate change is expected to have a disproportionate impact on
communities of color and the poor. Those of lower socioeconomic classes around the world will be forced to bear the burden imposed by affluent emitters in the developed
world. Their limited infrastructure, unindustrialized economies, and inability to cope with a changing climate will leave already-impacted
communities behind in the spheres of public health, economic prosperity, and natural
disaster management.

Pomona is in a unique position to
lead climate justice efforts. Colleges and universities played an active role
in the foundation of Earth Day and the ending of African apartheid. But what
social movements have students contributed to lately? Our short time at Pomona is
an opportunity to pursue actions on campus that have a lasting political impact in the world beyond. It is in
the field of political change that we are able to make a real difference. Individual
actions to reduce carbon emissions are a start, but they fall short of the
systematic change essential to limiting climate change and ending environmental

too much on Pomona’s consumption sends the message that all you have to do to
contribute is drive a Prius or recycle plastic water bottles. We need to aim
higher. We need to address the paradigmatic issues at hand. We can identify
choice actions that are achievable on campus and have political implications
beyond. On-campus activism can challenge the country’s political support of polluting industries, industrial malpractice, prejudicial environmental policies, and lack of post-carbon infrastructure.

I was
inspired last spring when 78 percent of Pomona’s student body supported systemic change
through the further investigation of divestment. But we were too easily
discouraged by the administration’s rejection of divestment. Now, no student groups are
undertaking climate activism.

It’s time for students to act.
Those who are ready should join Pomona Climate Justice, our new effort to fill the activism void on campus, minimize environmental destruction, and maximize political impact. If you want to discuss Pomona’s
role in climate justice, brainstorm campaigns, or get more involved in any way, come to
our first meeting Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in Walker Lounge. I’ll see you

Meagan Tokunaga PO ’15 is majoring in public policy analysis with a concentration in environmental analysis. As an intern with, she helped organize the Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign. Pomona Climate Justice can be reached at

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