Heating up Discussions on the Climate Crisis

Recently the campus has seen a wave of climate crisis action, from the Sunrise strike outside Parish Hall to the Philadelphia strike in coordination with a global effort, as well as President Valerie Smith’s signing of the Sustainable Development Goals’ Climate Emergency Letter.

On the heels of such activities Betsy Bolton, English professor and department chair, was inspired to organise a talk to further facilitate conversation between concerned members of the community about these issues. Last week a collection of roughly 40 students and staff met to discuss the current and future effects of the climate crisis.

“Our current way of life is dying, and we are not going to survive in this mode … we need to start learning how to have that conversation,” said Bolton, at the discussion. 

After a brief presentation on global average temperatures and safety caps, carbon neutrality aims, and intensifying feedback looks, small group conversation traversed various pertinent questions: What is your current understanding of where we are in terms of climate breakdown? What are your fears or worries for the future? What are your goals and priorities? What outcomes are unacceptable to you? What are you willing to sacrifice and what are you not?

The talks ranged from scientific facts to personal fears. Some gave voice to their mixed emotions of hope and apprehension. Others compared humanity to flying millennium falcon style through the closing doors of climate change, worried that we may not be able to mobilise ourselves in time.

Groups discussed the need to enact meaningful change as soon as possible, with talk of a mass reconfiguration of political and economic systems from the ground up. Many claimed it was becoming increasingly impossible to keep plodding along with daily life, saying that what mattered most was doing the right thing no matter the outcome.

Sacha Lin ᾿20 aided in the preparation for the talk. Lin is heavily involved in climate issues on campus from regular Friday protests outside Parrish, to creating posters aimed at raising awareness, among other activities. Lin described how she first became involved in the struggle. 

“I don’t think I thought about it at all in high school, then I took this class here, and was like this is a big problem, after that it was like, well, how can I not try to do something about this? … We just keep going on with our lives as if climate change doesn’t exist, and so I was thinking about how can we get people to talk about this?”

The objective of the talk was to play a role in expanding the range of public discourse on climate change. Many deeply invested in addressing these issues, such as Bolton, recognize the need to shift peoples’ conversations, beyond contemplation of recycling plans, towards more concrete routes of change that recognize the true magnitude of the current climate crisis. 

As a leading liberal arts college, Bolton believes it falls to institutions such as Swarthmore to talk about the immediacy of climate change.

“We need to say this is crisis number on, and if the liberal arts cannot engage this extinction threat we should just close the doors and go home because we’re not helping,” she said. “When the situation feels so overwhelming, and it’s so clear that we need a societal level response to something it can feel like, well, there’s nothing I can do so I’ll just wait for somebody else to solve this problem. I don’t think that’s true, I think in order to get there we all have to be working, we have to see our own agency and responsibility in the midst of everything else.”

While turnout to the event was promising, Bolton hopes to organise future climate crisis talks that draw greater participation from Swarthmore faculty and students alike. 

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