An essential part of Kenyon’s identity is the environment surrounding our campus. Kenyon is recognized as a “Tree Campus USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation. We boast beautiful scenery and a sprawling environmental center. Furthermore, we tout our dining hall’s commitment to local food, and we have a farm just down the road from which we source some of the campus’s meals. Thus, it makes sense that the potential dangers of a warmer planet would concern students.
Passionate students have proposed sustainability initiatives to address climate change. Using the the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment as a template, three students, Matt Meyers ’17, Sarah Oleisky ’16 and Lauren Johnstone ’15, presented a plan for carbon neutrality to the College’s board of trustees. The pledge will be enacted on a two-year schedule. Yet President Sean Decatur was recently quoted as saying in the Collegian, “In principle, one can set an infinitely long timeline” for carbon neutrality (“College to go carbon neutral,” Oct. 1, 2015). Herein lies a classic barrier to sustainability policy-making, not only on college campuses like ours, but also in the halls of state and federal legislatures.
The infinite nature of commitment Decatur alluded to shirks all accountability in less tangible and quantifiable environmental matters. To be fair, a pledge of carbon neutrality requires a costly and invasive audit of campus structures and their carbon impact. This cost would inevitably fall to students, but the College should actively manage its budget to cut costs or pay for this plan in phases within our current means, not settle for an indefinite timeline. Kenyon has a limited budget, so it’s important to make sure the value beyond initial cost is noted. Kenyon overlap schools like Carleton College and Oberlin College have already committed to the immensely important pledge of carbon neutrality, which can be a boon when recruiting sustainability-minded prospective students. The statistics about Kenyon that make us a sustainable college are nothing if we do not continue to push the envelope for these potential students.
Though Decatur has a great vision for the Kenyon community, it must be publicly stated that an open-ended commitment is a method of procrastination. I hope Decatur’s statement is not representative of his true commitment to carbon neutrality, and that the College will move on the project soon. There is simply no room to be vague in matters as important as climate change.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, the moderates — though well-meaning — are usually the biggest impediment to improvement. This phenomenon occurred at my own alma mater, Arkansas’s Little Rock Central High School, in the 1950s with integration. Moderates did not try to stop the nine black students who were trying to enter the school, but they sure didn’t attempt to help them enter the school by interceding to protect them against the disgruntled mobs. History provides the most potent warning against hesitant pledges and infinite timetables. Kenyon students brought forth a well-articulated and viable proposal, which reinforces the power students have over their education. Despite the complexity of the issue, it is crucial to be forceful in language and action, or significant policy change will never happen.
Channa Childs ’19 is undeclared from Little Rock, Ark. Contact her at email@example.com.