By Adam Maurer, Sustainability Manager at Hobart and William Smith Colleges
On Sunday January 24, 2016, more than 25 Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ (HWS) students, three professors, and three staff persons joined an audience of nearly 450 people at the Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, NY.
The large Finger Lakes crowd gathered with enthusiasm for the chance to meet and listen to a conversation with esteemed environmentalist and author Naomi Klein, who was joined by award winning journalist Michael Winship, a Canandaigua native. It was the first ever sold out lecture of the George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum; one that unapologetically claimed that climate justice is really a war between the global north and global south, or developed vs. developing countries.
- Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ students, faculty, and staff pose for a photo outside the Finger Lakes Community College auditorium after author and environmentalist Naomi Klein’s discussion with Michael Winship. The conversation was titled, “Capitalism vs. the Climate” and referenced her newest book, “This Changes Everything.” Photo credit: George Payne, Gandhi Earth Keepers International
When anyone learns about the desperate state of our climate and earth systems, it can be easy to feel depressed, overwhelmed, and/or possibly insignificant in the shadows of a monumental predicament and forecast. But, some of us are motivated to ask, “what can I do?” Hobart and William Smith Colleges have asked, “what can we do to be part of the solution?” In fall 2007, President Mark Gearan made HWS a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), pledging that HWS will meet climate neutrality (i.e. net zero greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions) by 2025.
- Photo credit: American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, http://www2.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/html/chartersignatories.php.
Since then, HWS has hired a full-time Sustainability Coordinator; established the Climate Task Force; created a Climate Action Plan; and worked to reduce campus GHG emissions through improved management of energy, waste, water, food, and transportation. Through HWS’ various greenhouse gas mitigation efforts and climate neutrality commitment of 2025, the Colleges have made a public commitment to work toward climate change mitigation.
Colleges and universities across the United States and globe are taking leadership in the mitigation of climate change. However, there is still a misunderstanding, or at least an incomplete understanding, on many campuses between our climate mitigation efforts and those most impacted by climate change itself. Returning to Klein’s claim that international negotiations like the UN Climate Conferences are creating a division between the global north and the global south, campuses must engage students, faculty, and staff in the realities of climate change on a global scale. Climate change will undoubtedly impact all people, but it will also more negatively impact those with limited resources, those in poverty, in coastal cities, and other more vulnerable groups.
There is a large temporal and spatial scale to climate change. That is, the impacts of climate change are not necessarily immediate nor are the impacts felt in the exact location where the greenhouse gases were originally released. That may be one of the harshest realities about climate change for those of us in developed countries. Our actions in Geneva, in New York State, in the United States, will produce a much more desperate life for those living in communities and countries ill-equipped to adapt to the changes that will occur as a result of climate change. It is worth noting here that the major concern with climate change is NOT the increase in global average temperatures, but what David Orr and others call “climate disruption or destablizatoin.”
Here in the United States, there will be human, ecological, and economic turmoil, think Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, but our nation also has disaster relief funds and resources to deploy when necessary. Although, as Hurricane Katrina proved, not even the United States is completely prepared for increased frequency and intensity of storms and their destruction to our infrastructure, social systems, and people’s lives. Now imagine more frequent storms like Hurricane Katrina hitting coastal cities and countries like Mumbai, India (pop. 12 million); Singapore (pop. 5.4 million); Dhaka, Bangladesh (pop. 7 million); Guangzhou, China (pop. 8.5 million); Rangoon, Myanmar (pop. 5.2 million); and so on. “Over the next half century, urban coastal communities around the world will face a new reality of dangerously amplified security risks, loss of life, and economic destruction from climate-change-induced flooding and storm surges.” Not to mention non-coastal cities impacted by increased storms, droughts, and other more frequent severe weather. How then, do countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iraq, Libya, Maldives, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Thailand, etc. civically adapt to climate change and deal with he challenges these new conditions will bring about? (insert image “Vulnerable_Countries”)
Global north vs. global south. Developed countries are emitting more greenhouse gases, which are causing the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, but the developing countries are more vulnerable due to location and lack of resources to adapt. Photo credit: Samson, J., Berteaux, D., McGill, B. J. and Humphries, M. M. (2011), Geographic disparities and moral hazards in the predicted impacts of climate change on human populations. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20: 532–544. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00632.x
Klein and many scholars, activists, policy-makers, etc. are trying to frame climate change into a dire concern for humanity, now also known as climate justice. While environmentalists do want to save trees, biodiversity, even the famous polar bear, it has become increasingly important to recognize that climate change is also about human kind, civic society as we know it and what we want it to become.
Here at HWS, several offices have been working together for several years now as The Justice League. This intentional collaboration between the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL), Intercultural Affairs, Finger Lakes Institute (FLI), and Office of Sustainability (OS) seeks to better communicate the inherent impact climate change will have on humans, especially those in developing countries and with lower socio-economic status. Last semester we partnered to host a screening of the documentary, Trouble the Water. For Earth Week this spring we are working toward an interfaith panel in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, and arguably, the state of humanity, Laudato si’. Here’s one excerpt from the Pope’s message, which captures its relevance to climate justice.
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.
Here on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, we hope to continue to speak truth to the impact that climate change will have on the poor, the disenfranchised, and all those who may not have the resources to adapt to the ecological, social, economic, and political destruction were are already witnessing. Climate justice is about a just, tolerant, empathetic, and loving world that acknowledges we have a moral duty to mitigate climate change, and furthermore, assist those people and communities who do not have the resources to adapt to a changing world themselves.
 Tsay, Shin-Pei and Herrmann ,Victori. “Protecting Coastal Cities from Rising Seas. http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/05/16/protecting-coastal-cities-from-rising-seas