Anne Else: Community voices inspire action

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 6:26pm

Sustainability has become an important topic on every level. There are large-scale patterns of pollution and damage to the Earth that will have lasting effects on generations to come unless adjustments are made. With these looming causes of climate change that are often created by powerful corporations or governmental policies, the sentiment that individuals have little power in what is happening to our planet can arise. I have heard people state that there first needs to be big systematic alterations to help the issue before they need to worry about their own carbon footprint. While it is definitely true that systematic dynamics need to be changed at wide-reaching levels, it is also important to include the individual’s journey towards being eco-friendly and conscious about what we put into the world.

Increased awareness of and education about sustainable options in daily life can hopefully expand the demographics of eco-conscious people. At a local level, students at the University of Michigan have a wide array of resources for environmental education and action. Through Planet Blue, students can become ambassadors through a simple process of watching informative videos about distinguished categories such as energy, food, water and community.

If students utilized this opportunity, the amount of environmentally aware people would rise substantially. As described in Planet Blue’s community training portion, it is beneficial to raise the enthusiasm and accessibility of sustainable practices and events in order to get people involved. Many people, whether they be students or not, struggle with consistent engagement in eco-friendly actions in the community due to busy schedules or inaccessibility. With the University, we must work to make it easier for the community to join eco-friendly programs and educate others on how to care for the environment.

These types of programs and access to education will allow for open conversations about sustainability in personal and academic life. Through raising our own voices to the leaders of our school, we can hopefully enact some change in the way the University deals with environmental policies and decisions. On March 15, our campus participated in the Global Climate Strike. A multitude of ages and voices came to support the cause. Open protests such as this are a way for any individual to express their support for what they believe is right for the future of our planet. Without sharing personal viewpoints, the passion for action will never be heard by mega-corporations or elected officials.

After the strike, several protesters turned this passion into a legitimate call for change and went to strike at the Fleming Administration Building on campus. They tried to create an open dialogue with President Mark Schlissel and expose the University’s stance on climate change policies and carbon neutrality. Currently, the University has not established clear efforts in the way of environmental procedures. Other Big Ten schools are surpassing our less than successful commitment to cleaner energy and awareness.

Engineering junior Dhruv Tatke explained the necessary action the University must take in the face of clear environmental changes and dangers. “We need the University to commit to a true and just transition to carbon neutrality by 2030, including immediate divestment from fossil fuels. This goal, that has been chosen by a group of students who have been helping to coordinate the Climate Action Movement on and off campus, keeps with the IPCC Report which requires that the world needs to cut its emissions by 40 percent by 2030 if we are to keep the planet from warming 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. As a center of wealth and privilege, it is imperative that the University is a leader in this effort.”  

This protest resulted in student sit-ins, which Tatke helped organize, to make these ideas reality. Tatke said “Steps like these were and are necessary because the administration and regents have taken many steps to insulate themselves from the students and community members they represent. An example of this is the regents meetings, which are supposed to be open to everyone. However, they take place midday during the week, precluding anyone who might have class or need to work from attending, making the event de facto for only those privileged enough to be able to take time off from their work to attend … You can see a very clear disinterest and lack of attention from the administrators and regents as students, teachers and community members pour their hearts out.” The dedication of time and energy to this community-changing cause is inspiring and proves that accessibility must be taken seriously in order to have every voice heard.

Through community organization and interaction, environmental amelioration is possible. Powerful business and government figures that deal with energy sourcing and sustainability programs can be intimidating to target, but we have to defend the interests of the people in our democratic state. Making our own thoughts on how and where sustainable practices should be used is the best way to ensure positive change for people and for the planet.

Anne Else can be reached at aelse@umich.edu.