By Miriam Brown
A white banner has been hanging from the second-floor railing of Worner Center since last school year. “WE ARE STILL IN,” it reads in big black letters, with the first E replaced by an illustration of an American flag.
“I love the fact that you have a banner on ‘We Are Still In’ hanging in your campus,” said Carter Roberts, president and Chief Executive Officer of the World Wildlife Fund, at Nov. 18’s First Monday panel. “I love the fact that you were one of the first signatories to ‘We Are Still In.’”
In 2015, 195 countries, including the United States, committed to the Paris Agreement, which stipulated that countries attempt to lessen the effects of global warming by taking measures to keep global average temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intent to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020. The U.S. has consistently produced the largest cumulative carbon emissions since the early 1900s, according to data from Carbon Brief, but it is the only country in the world to reject the accord.
In reaction, Roberts and the World Wildlife Fund spearheaded We Are Still In, a coalition representing the dedication of 158.6 million Americans across 50 states to stay committed to the Paris Agreement. Colorado College is one of 353 colleges and universities to sign on, to date.
“We’re ‘in’ not only the Paris Agreement, but we’re in a fight against the climate crisis,” said Mahea Daniels ’21, one of two student panelists to interview Roberts at First Monday.
For CC, the pledge reinforced their preexisting commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2020. As of 2018, CC had reduced on-campus emissions to 57% below 2008 levels and reduced total water usage by 38% since 2008, according to the 2019 State of Sustainability Report. The report also stated the intent to pursue a power purchase agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to provide CC with 100% renewable energy by 2020 — all steps to make CC a more sustainable campus and help fight the climate crisis in the process.
“Ameliorate is a better word to use because we’re not going to stop it,” Student Trustee Lily Weissgold ’20, the second student panelist to interview Roberts, said. “It’s too far gone to stop the climate crisis at this point, but anything you can do will make it better for somebody — ourselves included.”
Weissgold added that climate change will have disproportionate effects on women and people of color, in addition to impacting countries with historically low emissions. In a 2017 working paper for the United Nations, authors S. Nazrul Islam and John Winkel wrote the climate crisis is not only characterized by disproportionate effects on disadvantaged groups, but also further exacerbates inequalities.
Olivia Petipas ’21 said she felt this discussion wasn’t stressed enough in Roberts’ talk on Monday and that for future First Mondays, she hopes to see different kinds of activists’ voices amplified in the climate movement.
“I think a lot of activists of color have been swept under the rug to make way for white people, and I think at that point it’s an appropriation of the message and it’s not recognizing the impacts that climate change has upon communities of color,” Petipas said. “Not in any way to speak for them, but I think it’s problematic to be highlighting white voices only in this, especially if they’re coming from positions of such power.”
Petipas highlighted the connection between climate justice, racial justice, and social justice. She said that to her, it is evident that one of the crisis’ core causes is capitalism; as a result, climate change can only be solved with “revolution,” elements of which can be seen in popular movements in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile.
Both Petipas and Weissgold said climate change is a collective problem with collective solutions — solutions that will not come easily.
“Do I want to give up hope sometimes? Absolutely,” Weissgold said. “Is that an incredibly privileged thing to say from the safety of my own home here, where nothing is really going to happen to me? Yeah. So I have to keep hoping, I have to keep acting.”
Anna Feldman contributed to the reporting of this story.