Students rally to urge Scripps to sign carbon commitment

A college student speaks into a bull horn as more students follow behind.
Emily Kuhn PZ ’22 leads a chant as students march through Balch Hall, demanding that Scripps College sign a carbon commitment. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

“What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” students chanted Friday as they walked through Balch Hall, demanding that Scripps College sign a carbon commitment — a climate pledge signed by the other four Claremont Colleges and 329 other colleges and universities nationwide.

Over 100 students demonstrated on the Scripps Bowling Green Lawn for two hours and created a fake wildfire and other natural disasters to show their increasing impact on the environment.

Julia McCartan SC ’21 and Claire Payne SC ’21, the two lead organizers, opened the protest with a speech outlining their demands — first, that President Lara Tiedens attend a meeting with McCartan and Payne, and second, that the college sign a carbon commitment requiring them to become carbon neutral by 2036. 

“As students who have been organizing around this for over a year, our president should be meeting with us about this important issue and respecting our voices,” McCartan said. 

A Scripps spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Signing the Second Nature Carbon Commitment would signify the college’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible,  according to Second Nature’s website. 

This would “demonstrate Scripps College’s commitment to sustainability, and hold Scripps accountable for creating and following a personalized, concrete, step-by-step plan to achieve carbon neutrality,” the Scripps Carbon Commitment’s petition said.

College students hold signs that read "I am Carbon Committed" as they protest.
Olivia Klein SC ’22 and to Kati Tuemmler SC ’21 were some of the students who helped organize the Carbon Commitment and Climate Protest on Nov. 15. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

The petition, which demands that Scripps sign the commitment to “establish sustainability a value and priority of the College for years to come,” had been signed by 1,067 people as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We feel it’s important for Scripps and Claremont to feel a part of the larger global climate crisis and not feel separate in this city of trees and PhDs,” McCartan said in an interview with TSL. “The protest is also about bringing a sense of energy and community but also doom and gloom.”

Students at last Friday’s rally marched through Balch Hall, walking past large banners painted with “Climate justice now” and “Carbon Commitment” and carried posters with phrases like “Confident, Courageous, Carbon Committed” and “Transparency and Accountability Now.”

The protest also had several opportunities for students to make art, including a blank white banner for future visions of sustainability, a banner for paintings of climate destruction and a banner where students place thumb prints that was delivered to Tiedens’ office following the demonstration. 

Attendees also wrote and hung notecards on a small ‘wish tree’ that student activists delivered to Tiedens’ office following the protest.

“I think having art like this is a really good way to try and make it accessible to people who are not wanting to stand and march and yell,” Carly Dennis PZ ’22, a member of Divest Claremont Colleges and Sunrise Claremont Colleges, said in an interview with TSL. 

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Students filled the Balch Hall courtyard with red streamers meant to depict wildfires and lined the walls with paintings of flames and a sign that said “WARNING: Entering WILDFIRE zone!” 

Students also surrounded the Balch Hall fountain with blue clothing, signs depicting floods and water levels rising and signs that said “FLOOD ZONE.”

Olivia Klein SC ’22, a Scripps Carbon Commitment organizer, explained why the protest focused on Balch Hall.

“[We wanted to] make our voices heard and make it so every time they look out their windows or have to even go to the bathroom they’re seeing our demands and seeing this protest happening,” she said in an interview with TSL.

Scripps music professor Anne Harley made a speech supporting the student activists.

Students paint a banner with images of wildfires engulfing a tree and messages that read "You can save us from disaster."
Students helped paint banners relating to both climate destruction and visions of sustainability for the future. They were later delivered to Scripps President Lara Tiedens’ office following the event. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

“I am so moved by what you are doing, and keep going,” Harley said. “This is just the beginning of a longer trajectory, and I hope that the practices you are learning here, you’re going to carry forward in the struggle later on.”

Dennis said young people have a particularly important role to play in tackling climate change. 

“Young people like us have a really unique and powerful position. People are listening to us, people are looking to us to decide the future,” she said. “It’s something we really need to capitalize on and run with that fact, that people are listening to us.” 

In addition to the protest, McCartan and Maggie Thompson SC ’20 wrote and submitted a budget proposal — which called for the college to sign a carbon commitment — as part of the Scripps Sustainability Committee, which is made up of students, faculty and staff members, according to McCartan.

She said they were told to do so by the school after they spent months searching for the correct avenue to propose that the college sign a carbon commitment, which costs $2,200 a year in dues to Second Nature, McCartan said.

“We don’t feel that that is the right mechanism for expanding the priorities of the college,” McCartan said. “That is purely a budgetary and economic consideration.” 

The budget proposal will first go through to the Presidential Budget Advisory Committee, according to McCartan. If the committee approves the budget, it then moves to Tiedens who will make a final review in March.

McCartan also noted that the college has not filled the vacant sustainability coordinator position for over a year. 

“They’re in the process of searching for a sustainability person but obviously if it was more of a priority we would have one after 12 months,” McCartan said in a speech. 

Pitzer College, Pomona College and Claremont McKenna College signed the Second Nature carbon commitment in 2007; Harvey Mudd College signed it in 2008. 

Pomona also pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, according to a press release. CMC aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, according to the school’s website.

In May, ASCMC advocated for moving its target from 2050 to 2030, in the first resolution the body passed in over four years.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the wish tree was delivered to the center of the Balch Hall courtyard. The article has been updated to reflect that it was delivered to Scripps College President Lara Tiedens’ office. TSL regrets this error.
This article was updated Nov. 19 at 9:02 p.m.
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