Failing us: our administration’s climate destruction complicity

(Image courtesy of Pixabay user geralt)

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally released with the Sept. 23, 2020 print issue of the McDaniel Free Press. The author of this article has added a note in response to President Roger Casey’s announcement of his retirement. It can be found at the bottom of this article.)

When it comes to stopping McDaniel’s contributions to the climate crisis through meaningful and timely change, our administration has utterly failed us. Just as we know that climate change has been a problem since at least as early as the 1970s, we’ve known that institutions like corporations and universities are disproportionately at fault for climate destruction. 

Although McDaniel is a small school, we are still at fault for our share in climate devastation. Our leaders have failed to own up to their share of that responsibility, and our community members have noticed. We need McDaniel’s leaders to do better. 

Young people in our country can see through the bureaucratic language and empty symbolic gestures of failing leadership from a mile away, because we’ve grown up with it all around us. The time where we’ll tolerate excuses for inaction is long gone. 

We do not just mean inaction when it comes to carbon emissions, recycling, or sustainability efforts, although our College fails on all three of those fronts. We mean inaction in the form of social and economic injustice, as well. Young people recognize that environmental justice is intersectional and that in order for it to be effective, McDaniel must pursue all forms of justice. 

Right now, it seems as if the urgency of the climate crisis on campus is only understood by students, faculty, and some staff. We have change makers amongst engaged student organizations such as Sunrise McDaniel and Green Life, a dedicated Environmental Studies department bolstered by professors who address climate change in their own fields of study, and in the newly formed Environmental and Climate Justice Coalition. These groups will lead our campus through the climate crisis, but they can’t do so most effectively without the support of our administration. 

Students beg for change, for transparency, and for justice, and are met with responses that are half-measure and inefficient. It needs to become an urgent priority to create and implement a new Climate Action Plan that recognizes the intersectionality of environmental justice and reflects the seriousness of the climate crisis. Without an equitable and exhaustive plan for the future, our administration is failing us. 

Last year, junior Morgan Bliss wrote a commentary piece about McDaniel’s failures when it comes to climate action. A year later, these failures still cripple our campus, and Bliss’ writing and observations remain incredibly relevant. 

Some of these failures Bliss addressed included our college’s purchase of compostable cups that are not composted, the use of Roundup on campus, and a failure to construct our new student center under any sustainability initiative like a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The LEED certification is important because it improves the quality of life of the community and demonstrates a commitment to sustainability. 

In 2009, students, faculty, and staff worked together to create the McDaniel College Climate Action Plan. This plan included in-depth recommendations for reducing the campus’ carbon emissions in nearly every department, including technology, physical plant, curriculum, food service, and transportation. Our students, faculty, and staff developed an incredible plan, with clear recommendations and instructions for moving toward carbon neutrality, and our college’s leaders completely failed to set the plan into action.

Our administrators have neglected to take decisive climate action even though they know that students are doing so on campus. In fact, our college absolutely loves to market students’ sustainability efforts. For years, the office of Communications and Marketing has shared coverage of Green Life events, Earth Day, campus garden and trash clean-ups, and even last September’s climate strike. 

These events are used all over college marketing materials to recruit prospective students and to showcase environmental-friendly initiatives on campus. Students’ hard work should definitely be recognized, and the public recognition of students’ actions is a great thing. However, the problem comes when our College turns protests and clean-ups into superficial marketing opportunities instead of taking accountability for their direct contributions to climate change. 

Our college is eager to jump on the opportunity to invest in marketing, but they’re not actually willing to respect current or future students when it’s time to make investments into meaningful change. We generate an incredible amount of waste, yet our leaders seem unwilling to take even small steps toward large-scale recycling or composting initiatives (although they will facilitate funds to sustainability projects through Griswold-Zepp awards and the Green Terror Revolving Fund). 

Our college will spend hundreds of hours soliciting millions of dollars in donations for a new student center, but they won’t get it LEED certified. Our college will produce high-quality videos to rebrand the McDaniel Environmental Center, but they won’t invest in repaving the road for it. Our college will move decisively to profit off of students’ labor, but they’ll drag their feet when it comes to financially committing to fixing their environmental issues.

These marketing projects serve to gaslight McDaniel community members into thinking that meaningful change is actually taking place. In reality, we slip closer and closer into climate catastrophe every year with nothing to show for it except for pictures and videos of a campus that will no longer exist due to our inaction. Marketing doesn’t create meaningful change, and it does not heal those who disproportionately feel the effects of climate change. 

When the college deactivated seven majors and minors two years ago, including my own, President Casey said that these changes were necessary so we can look 10-15 years into the future of the College. Yet, Casey shows blatant disregard toward the exponentially more devastating environmental destruction. We will not benefit from the projected productivity of cutting liberal arts education, let alone have a livable future for our planet, if we do not take action now. 

Amidst the climate crisis, young people are consistently treated as if we are incapable, or that we don’t know what we’re talking about. The College treats students as if we are just tuition dollars and tools to boost institutional reputation. Our generation, this generation, is capable of being and doing so much more.

We have all of the solutions already. We know what needs to be done. We know how to do it. We have the willpower to lead the way. Yet, we’re roadblocked by administration after administration that refuse to make even the smallest sacrifice for the sake of a livable future. As soon as powerful change requires a monetary investment, it becomes suddenly impossible and deemed unattainable. Beyond real estate acquisitions and long-overdue building refurbishments, what legacy is Casey leaving us? 

On campus, this is no different, and our administrators and the Board of Trustees should be ashamed of themselves for their lack of action. No excuse will ever be good enough when humans die every day through results of environmental injustice.

It is up to all of us to ensure that we create a livable future: One that is just, one that is equitable, and one that gives everybody the things that they need. In order to create this future, we need to hold each other accountable, at an individual and community level. This accountability then needs to propel action.

Our administration harms students through negligence when they fail to meaningfully address their share in climate destruction yet still advertise like they’re taking action. This parallels other struggles where young people are demanding action and are met with empty symbolic gestures, like renaming streets and changing logos to respond to young peoples’ cry against police brutality. We see right through it. 

I implore our administration, that has consistently trudged its feet when it comes to creating meaningful and long-term change, to take the lead and show us that McDaniel is here to stay. Show us that McDaniel is here because we truly care about the future by investing in it and taking action to secure it. The institutions that survive are going to be the ones that act decisively on the right side of history, not the ones that fail to make even the smallest of changes.

Students, faculty, staff, and community members have been leading this charge for decades, and regardless of the level of administrative support they receive, won’t stop any time soon. Now is the time for McDaniel’s leaders to join the fight for environmental justice, before it’s too late. 

Climate change needs to become our highest institutional priority. It’s time to stop dragging our feet. Our students can easily draw the lines between the way that our administration acts on climate issues and the way they act on other issues; including racial injustice, sexual assault, and COVID-19. 

We cannot change our institution’s past, but we can change the future, and we need to act now. There can be no middle ground when it comes to the future of our world. You can either support a livable future through the pursuit of environmental justice, or you can perpetuate the trajectory of destruction we’re currently on. So, I ask our College’s administration: whose side are you on?

Author’s addition, 9/30, 2020: Congratulations to President Casey, who announced his upcoming retirement the afternoon of Sept. 23. In my commentary piece, I touch a bit on the legacy that President Casey will leave behind for McDaniel College. I am excited to reflect on Casey’s legacy and leadership, as well as what this transition means for our community. I look forward to a transition period that is marked by meaningful actions that show President Casey’s support for McDaniel’s students, as he discussed in his email. I hope that President Casey will leave a positive lasting impression on this campus, marked by understanding and action, as we transition toward a new President of McDaniel College.