Yes, all of the above
By Maria Bruno
In my last class of Introduction to Biological Anthropology I took the opportunity to discuss the messages of the “Living in a World With Limits” speakers in the context of roughly 50 million years of primate evolution and 6 million years of hominin evolution and the climatic changes that have shaped it. We first reviewed this figure:
which shows how the climate has cooled and become more variable throughout the Cenozoic. We then reflected upon how only a few out of dozens of ape species evolved out of the Miocene, and how, our lineage – Hominidae – dealt with cooler more variable climates of the Late Pliocene and Pleistocene with bipedalism and “culture”.
Fast forward to the present: I briefly reviewed the Holocene and the origins of agriculture (they’ll have to take Archaeology and World Prehistory to delve into those issues) and I then showed them this figure, which Jeff Niemitz kindly shared with me from an article hot of the presses of Science.
What’s “wrong” with this picture and what have our illustrious Clarke Forum speakers suggest we do about it?
We went through the list of recommendations:
Michael Shellenberger: Invent cleaner energy sources
Peter Becthel and Ruth Mkhwanazi-Becthel: Work locally to produce sustainable solutions, implement new resource extractions with caution and consideration of the people who live near them.
David Orr: Clean up and get ready locally, start the Dickinson Project.
Bill McKibben: Act globally, “protest and get arrested” (direct quotation from a student), don’t support the fossil fuel industry with your money – divest.
I run through these topics because, first, I want to thank Neil, Lindsey and the Clarke Forum for putting together a stellar and truly thought-provoking list of visitors. I, personally, learned a great deal about something I previously only superficially understood. I also think the order in which they came was perfect. At each step, we’ve had to reflect about what we should do about global warming – as individuals on a planet, as members of various disciplines, and as a college and community. Bill McKibben particularly made us think about what we should do as educators. This was particularly poignant for me (perhaps you noticed me fervently taking notes as he told us what we should do?!) because I am new at this job and still finding my way through it, not only with how I teach but why I teach it. I definitely took inspiration from McKibben’s messages and used this final class discussion to challenge my students to do something. Which leads me to the next big topic that came out of the McKibben visit – divestment.
It’s been very interesting to see the reactions to this proposal in various settings across campus from the panel organized by Reinvest Dickinson, email and individual conversations, this blog, and, of course, the Senate meeting, which Mara described. What has struck me about these conversations is this idea that somehow we should pick one or just a few strategies to take with regard to solving the issue. Does divestment have to be an alternative to something else, such as individual action or creating green buildings? I don’t think so. It seems to me that we need to do all of these things. Most skeptics of divestment seem to be worried about what would be lost if we remove our money from these companies. I ask, what could be gained? How many more students would apply to and enroll in Dickinson because of this action? What new donors who care about these issues would appear to support us? What if we could convince our whole consortium of college investors to divest together? What wonderful technologies could be developed with our re-investment? Perhaps there would be even greater motivation and pressure to make individual and local changes in fossil fuel consumption when a whole institution decides to takes its money away from people who use it to pollute our planet. Divestment is not going to solve the whole problem, but none of these small actions will, all of them count and I say the bigger the better.