Don’t just say 2030: On Distrust and Climate Neutrality
We won. And I’m supposed to be happy. We won Climate Neutrality by 2030. And I’m supposed to be happy with it. But I’m not going to rest on my laurels, because that would be betraying all that years of environmental activists on this campus have fought for. A promise for 2030 is a major step, but promises aren’t action. Promises aren’t enough.
They aren’t enough when there is years of evidence indicating the school is willing to undermine environmental activists at the institution. A key example of this can be seen as early as 2 years ago, when the school decided to change the location of a board of trustees meeting with full knowledge that the Sunrise Movement had planned a climate protest to occur at the meeting. This change was made in an unclear fashion, and only done so after the protest had already been announced. Student activists were even gaslighted with statements that the event was never scheduled to take place at that location, despite saved emails from anonymous sources indicating otherwise. These choices, as well as the school’s slow response to criticisms over these circumstances are only indicative of the wider issue that sits with the lack of clarity within our school’s bureaucracy.
Promises aren’t enough when public details regarding the plan on how to achieve carbon neutrality are delayed months over, leaving student activists and the Hamilton community in the dark. Though Hamilton’s website states that the climate action plan is to be updated biennially, the last one publicly available is from 2017. Though this year's final climate action plan was supposed to be finalized back in October 2021, it is still not available publicly (despite the Board of Trustees holding meetings where it could have been approved both in October and March). While the school’s commitment to 2030 is a likely indicator that a new climate action plan has been passed, it is unable to face any student scrutiny as a result of this lack of clarity. How are we supposed to trust the fact that our school seeks to become carbon neutral by 2030 if we aren’t being given info on how we plan to do so? How can we guarantee that we are achieving carbon neutrality in an environmentally just way without clarity?
Having faith in the Board of Trustees isn’t enough when many members of the Board have a conflict of interest in regards to policies surrounding climate change. Some members of the Board have ties to the fossil fuel industry, and while their history in the energy industries may provide perspective, it also poses a clear conflict of interest. An example of this would be the Robert V. Delvaney Jr, the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, who also serves as the director of Silver Creek Oil and Gas (amongst other energy companies). It is certainly possible that these members recuse themselves from such matters, but the Board of Trustees meetings are private affairs, and we have no current evidence to imply they do so. While we must hope they act solely in the best interests of this institution, individuals who have close ties to the fossil fuel industry at the very least will likely have biases in their judgment as a result.
The past doesn’t determine the future. The college's Board of Trustees made a huge step when they passed the resolution for carbon neutrality by 2030. They deserve a limited amount of praise for that. However, the staff and student activists who devised such proposals and pushed it for years prior deserve more praise. And it is exactly them—it is us, really—who need to continue the push forward. The push to make sure the plan for 2030 is environmentally just, scientifically sound, sustainable long-term, and properly funded. This isn’t the end of a fight, but rather the beginning.
And one last question for the reader: Is 2030 enough? Is that our highest aspirations? When our neighbors in Utica are being poisoned with lead in their pipes, is this our only goal as an institution? Are we okay with just being climate neutral, or do we want to become climate negative? Should we work to actively make our campus into a carbon sink? Do we want to do the minimum or be leaders? Can we consider ourselves leaders when our current plan leaves us over a decade behind peer institutions, some of which have already achieved carbon neutrality?
There are a myriad of environmental issues for Hamilton College to take on. There's always work to be done. I don’t have faith that they’ll do that work on their own. So it's time to think big. And we must continue to fight.
Another note of gratitude for those upperclassmen, alumni, and others who have already fought so hard to cause these changes. Your work may go unnoticed by some, but it is deeply appreciated and important. It's wholly understandable after so many years of unpaid labor on behalf of a colonial institution that you may be burnt out, and lack the energy to keep up pursuing greater victories. That's OK. Do what you need to in order to take care of yourself. To quote Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”