McDaniel College climate action plan: a rebellious reiteration

Composting food scraps is a great way to reduce waste. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay user Ben_Kerckx).

To attend McDaniel College is to invest in the future. But why am I investing in a future I most likely won’t have? What point is there to study for exams, for a major, for a job I might not even get to have? I’ll be able to enter the workforce when I graduate, but by the time I could solidify my position or grow into a career, we’ll all be scrambling to be self-sustaining on an earth 4 degrees Celsius too hot at the brink of civilization collapse. Is preparing for the future—teaching tomorrow’s leaders and change-makers and workers—supposed to feel fruitless?

During McDaniel Local, to facilitate the extension of our roots into the McDaniel and Westminster ecosystem, I, like hundreds of other students, planted trees. We were told that to plant a tree is to believe in the future, to invest in something that will outlive us. To make an impact, if only we start now. The same McDaniel Commitment helps students “plan for life beyond college” and encourages “reflect(ion) on the intersection between theory and practice.”

I want this planet to still be habitable in 30 years when those trees are grown. I want to be able to dream of a life beyond college that is more than fighting for survival. I don’t just worry about graduate school and money, but I worry whether I will even get to worry about those things, or if climate catastrophe will weigh more heavily on my mind. Here is my theory: planting trees isn’t enough; we need direct and concrete action now. And in practice, all I ask is that McDaniel College rise to the crisis at hand and adjust to it. Sustainability is not only a preparation for our future, but a reactionary and reasonable response to the current climate catastrophe we face.

McDaniel College, in 2007, was responsible for greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 20,679 metric tons of CO2, as noted in the 2009 McDaniel College Climate Action Plan. We can reasonably assume this has gone up in the 10 years following, but can only use the most recent data available from the College. This CO2 emission is equivalent to the annual emissions of 4,495 cars, as calculated by the EPA website’s data on greenhouse gas emissions from a passenger vehicle, or just over the entire CO2 emissions of the Falkland Islands in 2005, as reported by EDGAR, the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research website regarding Global Fossil CO2 Emissions.

It’s disappointing that I have to advocate for my right to have a future. It’s even more disappointing to learn that in 2007, a document was presented to the Board of Trustees regarding decreasing our carbon emissions, and in the 12 years following, these solutions haven’t been implemented. McDaniel College must become carbon neutral. This isn’t all too lofty a goal—American University, a far larger school within our metropolitan area, became carbon neutral in 2018. Harvard has committed to be fossil-fuel neutral by 2026. We must do better.

McDaniel College purchases compostable cups, but doesn’t work to actually compost them. We have a Compost Club, and yet every day hundreds of plates worth of food are mindlessly trashed in Englar Dining Hall (note: this is in no way Compost Club’s fault—they’re trying their best amid far too much waste than they could ever handle without an industrial composter partnership). Just imagine the yards upon yards of plastic wrap from Pub clogging up a landfill, never fully degrading, only breaking into millions of microplastics to pollute our water and air forever. Healthy food does not mean an apple from a farm thousands of miles away wrapped in plastic. Not every vegetarian likes tofu.

As an institution full of bright students and innovative faculty, McDaniel has so much potential and opportunity for growth and leadership in small college sustainability that simply has not come. The school is, however, spending many millions of dollars earmarked for renovations to a relatively new building, but won’t have it be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified or part of any sustainable design initiative. Thousands of dollars of tuition spent on fossil fuels for heating and electric, and I can’t get some solar panels on the roof of Lewis? And we still use Roundup on campus, despite it being a known carcinogen. The world is on fire, and we are sitting here in our cozy higher education bubble thinking that will save us when the flames roar nearer.

Our sustainability shortcomings are not the fault of administration only. The student body as a whole needs to work to be more mindful in their daily life; to not get more food than they can or want to eat, to recycle, to walk more and drive less, to use reusable containers, etc.

But, of course, the true decision-making power is held in the hands of the higher-ups, and I hope that we are at least able to cultivate this dual crop of fear and hope for the future in their minds to inspire change on campus.