Last Friday, over a hundred Swarthmore students skipped class to participate in the Global Climate Strike, a protest that drew more than four million people worldwide to the streets to protest government inaction on climate change policy. Later that day, President Val Smith signed the Sustainable Development Goal’s Climate Emergency Letter. While we think that signing the letter was a good step, we at The Phoenix call upon the college to commit to making more substantive changes to address climate change.
The Climate Emergency Letter is broad, calling on institutions to “[mobilize] more resources” and “[increase] the delivery of environmental and sustainability education.” The most concrete goal, to go “carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest,” is still far from the present day. While these goals are good beginning guidelines, we hope that Swarthmore’s administration, as well as its students, will go further and expand on its current policies and climate stances. It is easy to feel helpless on the individual scale, given the massive quantity of carbon emissions and waste that is produced by giant corporations and the military-industrial complex, but even a small campus like Swarthmore can begin to play an impactful role in joining the fight against climate change.
The climate emergency letter is among a series of initiatives the college has implemented to address climate change. The college developed a Climate Action Plan in 2012 and is working toward reaching carbon neutrality by 2035. In addition, the college aims to divert 80 percent of its waste to recycling and compost by 2022. President Smith has also advocated for Congress to adopt a national carbon charge, which would incentivize businesses to reduce carbon consumption. Increased action from the college surrounding carbon pricing could have a big impact, given that this policy has some bipartisan support but has not yet been enacted on a national level.
On other fronts, the college’s record on sustainability remains mixed as there are many areas in which we can improve. Our campus’ infrastructure itself could be more sustainable. Swarthmore continues to use outdated heating and cooling systems, drawing steam from the Heat Plant boilers. This system is the source of a majority of the college’s emissions. The college introduced an internal carbon charge in 2017 alongside its other carbon pricing related efforts. As it stands, though, the current charge is only 1.25% of most departments’ budgets. Swarthmore should show its commitment to sustainability by raising the charge. Furthermore, the college continues to invest in fossil fuels, despite repeated calls from students, alums, and faculty to divest. While divestment is not a panacea to climate change, the college should show leadership on this issue.
Students can also play a part in mitigating climate change, both on a college level and more nationally. The Global Climate Strike is one example in a long history of student advocacy on climate issues. Continuing to push the college to be more sustainable is a way for students to hold the administration accountable on its climate policies. Another way that students can channel their energy is by voting for climate-friendly candidates and staying engaged with local and national politics. Eligible students should make sure that they are registered to vote and that they have researched the climate policies of each candidate. The deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania in the upcoming November 5th local elections is October 7. We also commend the student activists who continue to push elected officials to prioritize climate change.
Climate change is the most serious threat to our future well-being. We at The Phoenix call on Swarthmore College to further its environmental goals beyond its current commitments. The fight against climate change is the fight to save the world. If Swarthmore wants to lead on climate, we must be bold. Swarthmore should be leading the charge and working to ensure that we have a positive contribution in the fight.
It’s also important to consume responsibly. Don’t drive if you don’t have to and make sure the brands you’re consuming are sustainable. If they’re not, we as consumers have the collective power to make changes in the brands of the world by voting with our wallets. Instead of going to H&M or Aeropostale or Forever 21, brands that guzzle gallons and gallons of water to make garments and who often have inefficient and unethical manufacturing conditions, shop secondhand and repair the clothes you already have. Resist the urge to constantly shop once you have enough clothes to make at least a different combo every day of the week. Only but pieces you love to reduce your carbon footprint in the future. Switch to a more plant based diet (no shame if your economic situation or culture or even just an occasional craving stops you, every little bit helps!) and don’t forget about immigrant and low income climate justice and pollution in addition to emissions! Cut down on plastic use by eating out at mom and pop shops and buying locally sourced food. Bring your own rewashable dishware to sharples! There’s so much more that we can all do in addition to everything listed above.