We’ve done it. April 14 marks the validation of student voices and a recognition of the reality of climate change. Connecticut College is one of 22 universities to sign the “Put a Price on It” campaign promoted by both Our Climate, a millennial mobilizing NGO, and the National Geographic series, “Years of Living Dangerously.” The campaign urges politicians to take into account the externalities associated with carbon overuse through cap and trade and tax initiatives. It encourages students to lead the movement, as climate change will impact younger generations most prominently.
It is not coincidental that Moriah McKenna ‘17, a member of the GNCE, and Jillian Ouellette ‘17, Senior Fellow of the Office of Sustainability, led our campaign at Conn. McKenna commented, “As many activists have been saying lately, grassroots change and local level change is very crucial in the environmental movement right now especially with the current state of our political system.” She continued, “Institutions, especially higher-ed institutions signing onto something like this is creating a stronger voice for legislation.” Despite national blockades to environmental progress, we still have a chance. Students, take this article as a personal call to action because, whether we embrace it or not, climate change is largely our fight.
There is always work to be done. Oullette noted, “I think this step is a symbolic call for more action on the national level, but perhaps more importantly it is also a call for more collaboration between disciplines, departments, clubs, individuals, etc, on campus.” This success story involved the help of the GNCE, the Office of Sustainability, the environmental studies department, faculty, staff and of course students. 500 residents of New London and members of the college community signed the “Put a Price on It” petition that captured President Bergeron’s attention. This type of mobilization across often divisive lines on our campus clearly produces results. The monumental achievement of signing is proof.
Professor of Government and Environmental Studies Jane Dawson remarked, “you’re the ones who are going to have to live through this thing,” testifying to the relevance of young environmental activists. She explained, “the goal [of the campaign] is to get a lot of colleges to sign on and then to keep on promoting this at all different levels of policy. So city, state, regional, national. We need to start from the people, but we need to focus on policy rather than just saying, ‘turn off your lights.’” Carbon pricing has the potential to turn individual environmental activism into global action. Taking shorter showers and printing less, while appreciated, are simply not going to solve the carbon crisis. If we continue current rates of carbon production, we will reach the safe carbon limit for the century set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by 2032. In other words, now is the time to make change.
Most criticism of the carbon pricing movement comes from the economically concerned, however Oullette offers a rebuttal. “Carbon pricing is effective because it isn’t strictly environmental, it is economical” she said, adding, “there will always be people who don’t care about the environment or combatting climate change, but you learn in any intro economics class that negative externalities, like CO2 pollution, are a burden on the society as a whole, so this is more than an environmental problem, it is a market and governmental failure.”
By supporting “Put a Price on It,” Connecticut College has committed to action. As one of the first colleges to support the campaign, we are a member of the Leadership Circle, meaning it is up to us to further the movement. Earlier in April, the environmental studies department and the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE) hosted Joel Bach and David Gelber, the creators of the “Years of Living Dangerously” documentary and cofounders of the “Put a Price on It” campaign. With help from the Linda Lear Fund, the event fostered conversation about carbon pricing and the role of young generations in the movement. It acted as a catalyst for the events to follow and a model of innovative conversation on campus.
McKenna expressed her overwhelming support of the administrative decision to sign.“I think that is a really important title to add to our legacy because we have a long history of being movers and shakers in the environmental community,” she said. “I think it’s actually going to be really good publicity for our school.” Ideally, the intentions of the campaign signing would be purely environmental. Regardless, we have made progress and this is something to be proud of. It turns out that if student voices and causes are loud enough, administrative change does follow. Let’s keep speaking out.