I have stopped appreciating how beautiful our campus is. Walking through the Amphitheater to admire the trees each day, only to rush onto Kohlberg or Trotter; leaving Sharples to admire the vibrantly quilted sky after dinner; and sitting under trees off of Magill Walk to shade myself on sunny days have given me an immense sense of gratitude to the college and the Scott Arboretum, but I will not deny my complacency.
This contentment, however, is toxic. Yes, these sights should be enjoyed, and they should build a setting for our other experiences, academic or otherwise. However, they are not constant and they are not guaranteed. Although they may seem like they are in our small slices of time at Swarthmore, our understanding should not end at what we see. We must work past our experience. We must work to preserve this place and all places for the people who follow us on Earth. We, as students and stewards, must each take on the responsibility of making Swarthmore a green institution.
Coming from DC, I rarely had opportunities to immerse myself in nature. Maybe a drive down Rock Creek or George Washington Parkway late at night, where trees, only briefly struck by my headlights, flew by in my periphery. Otherwise, I lived between home, the cracking asphalt, and the climbing cranes of the District.
My isolation from nature should make me see the space we live in for what it is. And I did—at least, during my first month and a half at the college. I made it a part of my schedule to enjoy being in nature, but even that did not stop me from devaluing it over time. It became commonplace. It became my commonplace.
I think what made me notice my forgetfulness was Monday’s NextGen Climate PA rally. I heard about the assembly by unknowingly joining the organizing group at Essie’s, and with my quesadilla in hand, I signed my name to the cause. Going to the rally, as well as acquainting myself with the climate movement at large before and after moving in, has made the situation clearer in my mind.
Often times, climate change is discussed only in sweeping terms. An ice sheet falls from Antarctica, crashing and plunging into the ocean. Fires burn along the West Coast, and droughts inflame the issue. West Asia will soon become uninhabitable due to its spiking heat and evaporating water sources.
This course of reporting is one of the few ways that climate change can be announced or noted, because climate change is of such unthinkable scale. However, where I find that the issue lies is in the contrast between these overwhelming results and the seemingly everyday sources of these global troubles.
From the car I drove on those parkways to the laptop I am charging now, we contribute to those seismic events that happen everyday—maybe not in our own backyards, but to the homeless, the poor, and the global south.
The issue is that most students in Swarthmore’s student body grow up in this system. Lights stay on through the night, showers run as long as one would like, and printers at McCabe or Cornell consistently stream out students’ every reading. It’s ubiquitous. It’s our commonplace.
Because of this realization, however, we have the opportunity to make change in ourselves and in our community. There must be a marriage of solidarity and subsidiarity. Demanding incremental change from institutions but monumental change from ourselves.
That is why I propose we fight for the causes Mountain Justice professes, including divestment, outfitting dorms with water-conserving toilets and sinks like those in Danawell, and aiming to make the campus carbon-neutral. On top of these goals, we can make meaningful efforts to change how we live to reduce our impact as individuals. We might set water limits on showers, thrift for clothes instead of only buying new, and go zero-waste—an innovative idea where disposable products are rejected or refused.
Our campus is one we should not just appreciate, but also cherish. However, there are innumerable places like Swarthmore that mean just as much or more to others. By changing our college and our actions, we might be able to preserve those places for someone else.