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Work towards worthy goals, Wisconsin BCPL

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Close on the heels of a similar measure in Florida, Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands recently approved a measure “prohibiting staff from engaging in global warming or climate change work while on BCPL time,” according to Bloomberg News reporter Eric Roster, who noted that the moratorium on climate change work for staff members also extended to responding to e-mails on the subject. According to Roster, Wisconsin State Treasurer and BCPL member Matt Adamczyk defended the ban on climate work, saying, “It’s not a part of our sole mission, which is to make money for our beneficiaries…That’s what I want our employees working on. That’s it. Managing our trust funds.”

Adamczyk’s defense of the move displays a shockingly narrow-minded set of goals for the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. This is especially so given that language on the board’s website states, “We are grateful for this opportunity to serve as stewards of the lands, moneys, and records we hold in trust for all of Wisconsin’s citizens” (emphasis mine). One might expect governmental leaders from the state that produced not only Aldo Leopold, the author of the environmental classic, A Sand County Almanac, and Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, to have a broader and more environmentally sensitive set of goals, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.

In an era in which the threat of climate change has become one of our most pressing issues, the endorsement of such narrow sets of goals is not only uncreative, but is also deeply dangerous and irresponsible: governments, boards, private entities, and citizens cannot afford to fall into the trap of what Bulgarian political theorist Tzvetan Todorov calls, “overinstrumentalization.” “Overinstrumentalization,” writes Todorov, “consists of focusing exclusively on the means and instruments for achieving a goal without stopping to think whether the goal is a legitimate one or not.” Clearly, making money for one’s beneficiaries and managing trust funds can be seen as worthy goals when such goals are considered in isolation. However, when such goals conflict with other worthy goals—such as fostering discourse or work on climate change—the initial goals may need to be re-evaluated and broadened.

My hope is that Carleton, too, will continue to take a broad and thoughtful view about its economic and environmental goals. An ongoing conversation about and investigation into fossil fuel divestment is one of many ways that we can continue to evaluate and re-evaluate our goals as a community. On the surface level, Carleton’s goal may be to be an apolitical academic institution, but we must not be afraid to challenge such a self-conception, asking ourselves whether we also have political and environmental obligations, and if so, what those may entail (or not entail). Thus, both divestment advocates and divestment opponents owe their thanks to groups such as Carleton’s Climate Justice Coalition for keeping us, as an institution, self-critical about our goals.

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