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The Carletonian

Sustaining Our Hypocrisy

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As Climate Action Week continues, with daily events to promote sustainability, Carleton seems extra “green” right now. But is it? How sustainable are our daily lives, and how sustainable is Carleton as an institution?

Natalie Jacobson ’18, the lead organizer of Climate Action Week, said that as a student body, “We could be doing so much more.” She pointed to the fact that environmental groups are numerous on campus, but their members are often the same people. There are a very small number of actively involved students, she says, despite the many opportunities for engagement. One of the hoped-for outcomes of Climate Action Week, she said, is to turn environmental activism into “a trend, not a niche,” by hosting a wide variety of events.

Martha Larson, Manager of Campus Energy and Sustainability, agreed, saying that the goals are to “engage the Carleton community in broad discussions about climate issues” and “to engage a broader audience in those discussions, meaning beyond the usual student groups and departments.”

This outreach includes both students and Carleton’s administration.

“The administration is part of that Carleton community that we’re trying to engage. The more people from the administration that we can get involved, the better,” Larson said. “The good thing about Carleton is that we know that we can do more, so we’re always pushing ourselves… We know we can do better, and that’s what drives us.”

Brent Murcia ’16, a Sustainability Assistant, says that in general, members of the Carleton community care very much about the environment, but that “there’s a difference between caring and being actively involved.” That difference is key in the debate on divestment.

Climate change and Carleton’s role in it are topics that have loomed large on campus lately through the actions of Divest Carleton. The group’s description on Carleton’s website reads, “Divest Carleton calls upon Carleton College to divest all its holdings in the fossil fuel industry and prevent any new fossil fuel investments… divestment is a step toward creating the social and political progress on which the planet and its people depend while upholding the College’s values.”

According to Jacobson, Climate Action Week and Divest Carleton, while differing in the amount of institutional support they receive, have parallel goals. And according to Larson, “Divestment is one of many complex conversations that are happening as we all try to figure out how to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

“Our administration in general is very hesitant to take action that is not business as usual,” Murcia said.

“The Climate Action Plan that we have is nice. I don’t think it’s enough. Not a lot of people would agree that it’s enough.” He tied this to the Board of Trustees’ response to the CRIC report on divestment, and to Climate Action Week, which he praised.

“One of the most common arguments against divestment,” he said, “is that divestment is not enough, that our endowment won’t make a dent, that it’s hypocritical if we still drive cars…I think those arguments are silly, for the same reason that saying Climate Action Week is not enough is a little silly. It’s not a question of what is the ‘right way’ to go about solving climate change…for an issue as complicated as climate change, you have to engage people in every possible way.”

From the trustees’ perspective, however, Carleton is doing plenty to promote sustainability. In the Board of Trustees’ letter announcing their decision not to divest, they listed many aspects of Carleton that are environmentally beneficial, such as eco-friendly buildings on campus, the Climate Action Plan, and the wind turbines, among others, as evidence that Carleton is doing plenty to combat the effects of climate change.

In response, Murcia said, “Carleton has more that it can do, and the fact that it’s already doing great stuff is not an excuse for not doing more. We should never allow ourselves to be ‘okay’ and say ‘Okay, we’ve done enough.’ We can always do more.”

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