Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Letter by members of Swarthmore Green Advisors: Green Advisors
As individual members of the Green Advisors (GAs) we are writing to offer our perspectives, critiques, and suggestions in response to the Board of Managers’ Open Letter on Divestment.
First, we reject the dichotomy the Board sets up between the work of Ecosphere and the work of Mountain Justice. By expressing pride at the presence of Ecosphere while portraying MJ’s campaign as excessive and an inappropriate response to environmental issues, the Board does not acknowledge that MJ, just as much as any other group, is an integral part of Ecosphere. Ecosphere is a coalition made up of six groups that each approach environmentalism in their own specific ways. While Green Advisors is a group that focuses on precisely the sort of personal behavior changes the Board is advocating, we do not believe that our methods are or should be considered the most effective. Rather, the environmental issues our planet is facing are so significant that only by working from many angles will we be able to create change with the necessary degree of urgency. As students trying to intitiate a cultural shift in how people view their consumption of resources and the effects their actions have on society at large, we appreciate the attention MJ has brought to environmental issues in general, and specifically to the connections between environmental and social justice issues. We do not see choosing methods of environmental activism as a question of either/or but rather as a question of how we can do everything possible to make broad-based changes to how Swarthmore — and the world — operate.
We do not believe that the College is making as significant a step toward this type of structural change as the Board seems to think it is. Their letter speaks frequently about Swarthmore acting as a leader on climate change policy, but in order to be a leader we must set a good example. Currently, environmental consciousness is not built into the culture at Swarthmore. Dining services pays for compostable cups for the coffee bars, but a small fraction of those actually make it into a compost bin. Trash cans are often full of recyclable material, reflected in a 2010 estimate that we divert only 27% of our waste from burning in an incinerator in Chester. Lights in dorm hallways and bathrooms are often left on throughout the night. While these are the sorts of personal behaviors that the GAs seek to change, this work cannot merely be done by a small group of student volunteers engaged in peer education initiatives. These behaviors must be something that the entire college affirms and participates in as a matter of course.
To that end, we suggest that the College and the board look to ideas that students have already been working on but that have not been supported as actively by the institution as students would have liked. While the board says that they are proud to have Ecosphere groups working on campus, students in Ecosphere often find that the College does not meet their attempts to create change with strong initiative. Some examples of ongoing projects that the GAs or other student groups have worked on which have not yet been implemented to their full potential include:
- A mandatory workshop during orientation: The 2007 report “The Greening of Swarthmore” suggested that an orientation event including training for RAs and incoming students be implemented by 2010. For the first time ever, this year Ecosphere members were given permission to participate in a mandatory orientation event. However, members were only allotted five minutes to speak about composting procedures.
- A competition between dorms to reduce electricity consumption: For the first time last year, the GAs organized a dorm energy competition. However, many dorms and buildings on campus are not metered individually or at all, so energy usage and reduction cannot be comprehensively tracked. This is the first step suggested by the Climate Action Plan, and should be implemented soon.
- Renewable energy on campus: In the fall of 2011 students prepared a proposal for putting solar panels on the roof of LPAC.  If we are trying to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through personal consumption, we must include a commitment to renewable energy.
These are merely a few tactics for combating climate change and working towards climate justice. We believe that divestment is a tactic that has the potential to be equally viable and therefore support Mountain Justice in their campaign. We want to emphasize that picking any one approach is not a final solution nor will one alone be enough to mitigate the effects of climate change.