On Saturday, Sept. 19, two artists transformed a clock in New York’s Union Square into a “Climate Doomsday Clock,” counting down the time the human race has left before the damage we’ve done to the environment is irreversible. The clock gives us seven years, but much of the damage has already been done — in the past 50 years, around 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed — will continue to be done. We must therefore reevaluate Kenyon’s role in halting climate change, and where we have fallen short.
Colleges and universities, as investors and as educators, are big players in environmentalism, whether we like to think of them as one or not. Harvard University, for one, came under fire for its investments in the fossil fuel industry — of the 1% they have disclosed of their endowment, $5.6 million went towards fossil fuels. This means one of the most renowned American universities has been actively funding environmental downfall. Reconstructing Kenyon’s climate plan is an important piece of a wider effort against environmental collapse.
Currently, the Office of Green Initiatives does not plan for Kenyon to be carbon-neutral until 2040. By 2040, the human race will have left an irreparable dent in the environment. Sea levels are already on the rise, wildfires and other natural disasters are becoming increasingly frequent, and ecosystems are struggling to survive. This makes a deadline for carbon neutrality set 20 years in the future both futile and laughable.
Private institutions, from clothing companies to colleges, have been implementing green initiatives to create an illusion of climate activism. My peers, for example, have noticed Peirce’s switch to compostable cutlery, yet there really is nowhere for anyone on campus to compost. These token initiatives are not enough, and never have been.
Rather than altering our own lives, students’ sustainability efforts should be focused on political activism. Legislative changes can do a lot more than our refusal of plastic straws. This activism can include anything, from organizing phone banks and writing letters to our Ohio representatives to researching and funding environmentalist organizations and candidates.
But the burden of action shouldn’t fall completely on college students. College administrations have a duty to listen when their students push for divestment from fossil fuels. Even if Kenyon plays a smaller role in producing emissions than sprawling state schools or research universities, if the College aims for carbon neutrality by 2030 instead of 2040, it would greatly impact Knox County as a whole.
For a long time, those who took interest in environmentalism thought that condemning plastic coffee cups and meat eating was a sufficient form of activism. And I’m not suggesting we halt our efforts to be more sustainable in our daily lives — we all can be a little bit kinder to our Earth. But the idea of a “personal carbon footprint” was developed by corporations to exonerate themselves. As climate activists, as students and as people who generally want to delay our own demise, we need to direct our attention in a way that is more radical and more focused on what we’re really up against.
Kenyon’s role in the fight against climate change will be costly. But at some point we must ask ourselves what is more important: the preservation of our endowment, or the preservation of the world we are sending our graduates into?