Gifts Freely Given, Part II: Sustainability

Over the last few weeks of the program, a self-selected group of BCL5 students invested time and energy into a shared project–a writers’ collective. Each student chose a piece of their writing, and engaged in multiple rounds of revision and editing with a variety of readers. The work is diverse, but each piece is a gift: a clear window into what the writer thinks, feels, and believes. 

These next three installments are written by Adam, Kiran, and Lila, each of whom explore how we should face envioronmental crisis. 

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Recently in New York City a countdown clock became a prominent display in Union Square. What do you think it’s counting down? Maybe Christmas, maybe New Years. It’s actually counting down the days until the effects of climate change are irreversible. The looming clock now sits counting down the minutes to disaster. The reality of our necessity for change is setting in. Every year more and more natural disasters seem to occur, and it’s becoming clear we need to do something. That is why I believe in sustainability. 

On October 15th, I had the opportunity to walk the trail that runs along Riverside. While walking I was filled in on the history. What stood out to me the most was the landslides and how they’ve been addressed. Many years ago during some of the first land slides the city decided to choose the easy option to fix it. They encourage the dumping of trash to replace the land loss. One mechanic recalled how the city even told him to “dump 300 junk cars”. As you can imagine this wasn’t sustainable. Junk now lines the hill and every building is on the brink of sliding into the river whenever we experience heavy rain. Now we have to choose between spending upwards of 30 million dollars to fix it or leaving it to nature to take its course. Neither of those options is ideal but it’s what we’re stuck with because of the past unsustainable actions. 

In recent years Burlington has transferred to using 100% renewable energy, becoming one of the first cities in the country to do so. While this is incredible in itself, the rest of America still gets ⅔ of its power from non renewable sources. This is quite obviously not sustainable, and needs changing. Before switching to 100% renewable, we got power from a now shut down coal burning plant called the Moran Plant. We can still see the effects to this day, even though it was shut down years ago. The soil around the power plant is filled with toxic chemicals and for many years was even blocked off to keep the public safe. Additionally, peeling back bark from trees or paint from houses reveals a black sooty layer from when the plant was active. On top of that when it was active the life span was lower and risk of disease higher than those who didn’t live near it. It was chosen to shut down the plant for those reasons and many more, it just was simply a dirty unsustainable source of power and we knew we needed change. Keep in mind it was closed before I was even born and we can still see the prominent effects, now also take into consideration there are 359 active coal plants in the US. It becomes very obvious that this is an incredibly unsustainable way to produce power.

I can find countless other examples of unsustainability in our everyday lives and the harm it causes. I’ve grown up seeing a unsustainable society and in recent years expanded my knowledge. I know it doesn’t work and I know we need to change. Without change the clock will keep counting down until it hits zero, and that will be the Earth that I inherit. We as a species have never thought ahead and now we reap what the past has sown.

  • Adam Bates

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How do you convince people that the climate crisis is real, and needs to be addressed? In order to have the biggest impact on people’s consciousness, many believe that one should balance both fear and hope when discussing the planet’s future. Environmental activists often use a three to one ratio of hope to fear when addressing the fate of the planet, but it’s never that simple. 

Every person reacts to this catastrophe in a different way and has varying capacities for change. Some can afford the changes needed to live a carbon neutral lifestyle, but this is not an affordable reality for everyone. One cannot crudely manipulate people’s emotions into making radical change. Simply using fear tactics to scare people into caring or idealizing a perfect future is unproductive and only results in passivity. The approach of “meeting people where they are” is way more effective in reaching people but the real leverage point for attacking the climate crisis is rebuilding the balance of power. 

The first step in making actual change in the United States is breaking down capitalist individualism. A possible solution to this is dismantling billionaires. That is, dismantling the ability to be a billionaire. This could be done by increasing their taxation and regulation. This is extremely difficult since the rich have complete control over American politics. A simple solution would be removing the money from politics. This would take away their ability to manipulate policies and legislation. This would also eliminate the use of persuasion and bribery so that politicians could make the decisions that they were elected to make. Another leverage point could be appointing more women to political positions, specifically BIPOC women. Not only would this provide wider perspectives, but it is proven that women make smarter, more diplomatic decisions. 

The present form of “democracy” has failed us. Coming out of this pandemic, we have an extraordinary opportunity for change. What we decide to do with this opportunity will make or break humanity. These big picture ideas seem abstract in our small lives, but the water will still rise as millions are displaced. However, while this is the reality, it’s important to remain hopeful. “Hope means another world might be possible, not promised. Hope calls for action. Action is impossible without hope,” says Rebecca Solnit. Having an imagination is vital when it comes to building a better world. This is how we adapt to rapid change. The future is not finite. It’s tempting to be discouraged. A blank canvas can be intimidating, but it can also inspire the passion needed to build a better world.

  • Kiran Bleakney-Eastman

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Where there is fear, there must also be hope. The worst nightmare that haunts us as a species must be tackled and transformed into a starting point for change. I have heard a lot of frightening talk about the climate crisis, and each time I read about it I can feel our impending doom pressing in closer and closer. I imagine our doom has a face, with horns and fire coming out of its ears, whispering things like “I’m going to eat you all up with my smoke machine,” or “Hehe little humans you’ve done this to yourselves.” But if we approach the problem with determination, maybe we can avoid having to come face to face with that particular doomsday monster. 

In Degrees of Panic, a recent Seven Days article brought up this important point: “The world is on fire. Why are you in such a hurry to get to the office?” This says a lot in very few words, and reminds us to take a step back and rethink our priorities as individuals and as a nation. As Kurosawa reminds us, we shouldn’t worry about our beard when our entire head is about to be cut off. The U.S. politicians in power at the moment seem to be doing just that. They are worrying about their beards, things like tax fraud, their social standing, and how to best hide their crimes and misdemeanors from the public. The people in power have been focused on the wrong things for far too long. If we don’t save our Earth, there won’t be any ground for them or for any of us to stand on. There will be no superficialities for us to worry about if global warming continues the way it’s going.  

An article from the Guardian suggested that the real problem is how little climate change is truly being talked about. Accepting a problem is the first, and arguably the most important step in the path to real change. The world will not remain the way it is if we remain largely in denial. The climate crisis isn’t a far off possibility for our planet. It is coming faster and faster with each passing day, as we sit back taking hot baths, luxuriating in our ignorance. People in power enable these oblivious actions. Time after time, our elected officials have somehow failed to address this issue. We need leaders to take drastic action, like advocating for the implementation of the Green New Deal and other major policy shifts. Even within the most intelligent branches of government, ignorance and denial about the climate prevent the change we need to begin seeing. This is truly a problem with the greater systems, with corruption, and with our lack of foresight and motivation. 

We may be lacking awareness, but humanity has the resources and ability to turn this around before it is too late. This can only happen if we face our fears, both imagined and tangible. Our doom is only real if we choose to give in to it. 

  • Lila Iyengar Lehman

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