First Monday With the Provost: What Society Will We Choose?


In a packed Kathryn Mohrman Theater, Colorado College’s Provost Alan Townsend did not hesitate to explain the dire consequences of climate change to his audience. With his background in environmental science, these dire consequences are all too familiar to Provost Townsend. He argued that the science behind climate change is really quite simple — and that we’ve understood it for much longer than people think, as demonstrated by a 1912 article from a New Zealand newspaper titled “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate.” He also noted that at the time he was studying environmental science in school, it was still a “problem for the future.” But now, all of the predictions that were made when he was in school are coming true, with one exception; the action being taken to prevent the climate catastrophe is far behind what was initially anticipated as necessary. 

We see the effects of climate change taking place everywhere in the world, all the time. He gave examples of fires in California and Colorado from recent years, and floods in Nebraska from recent days. But still, the worst of it is yet to come. So what can we do about it?

Provost Townsend argued that climate change is driven by inequalities, and its impacts will only worsen these inequalities. To fix the problem, we need to address hard truths and fix injustices. A graphic that drew audible gasps from audience members showed that the richest 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for almost 50 percent of total lifestyle consumption emissions, while the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population are only responsible for about 10 percent of total lifestyle consumption emissions. 

His talk was titled “What Climate will we Choose?”, but Provost Townsend said the title could easily be changed to “What Society will We Choose?” Solving the climate crisis requires a fundamental reshaping of our society. Reshaping our values, institutions, and way of life is the only way we can fix climate change without exacerbating the inequalities that climate change creates. 

The talk concluded with an exercise in which students had to close their eyes and imagine themselves as part of a solution to mitigate climate change effects. He ended on a hopeful note, emphasizing that what we do does matter. For CC, focusing on the intersectionality of race and climate justice is an important and widely agreed upon issue for us to meet our goal of being both an anti-racist and sustainable institution. In a final message to students, Provost Townsend said, “When you leave here, take a moment to sit in reflection, and commit to a better world.” 

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