The Yale community came together for a week-long celebration of sustainability following the release of the University’s 2017 Sustainability Progress Report on Oct. 9. Featuring events ranging from bird-watching excursions to a talk by environmental activist Bill McKibben, the celebration aimed to bring sustainability to the forefront of campuswide conversation.
Through community sheet-mulching events, book exchanges and tours of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Sustainability Week encouraged Yale students and members of the New Haven community to take action to conserve resources and give back to the Earth on an individual level.
“The value of the celebration is that it opens up the discourse and the dialogue about a very important issue,” said David Evans, the head of Berkeley and one of the event’s organizers.
Evans said the University can only ask for its members to do what they can. For Berkeley, this means working toward carbon neutrality by the year 2050, he said. Evans added that while Yale’s ability to directly effect greater environmental change is limited, events like the celebration give the University an effective means to bring momentum to the sustainability movement.
However, recent political discourse has avoided addressing environmental concerns, said Lisa Friedman, a climate reporter for the New York Times.
“There has been a shift of attention from climate change to pretty much anything else,” Friedman said.
Friedman spoke at Berkeley as part of sustainability week. In her talk, Friedman assessed how the Trump administration has redirected the focus of many federal environmental agencies away from expanding renewable energy and toward optimizing traditional energy sources.
Friedman, whose reporting focuses on institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, said she is concerned that the federal government has stopped pushing for climate change reform. At the moment, national environmental legislation is at a “standstill,” Friedman said. It is up to states, cities and universities, she said, to continue the effort to reduce climate change.
Various events over the course of the week highlighted the power of grassroots initiatives to create meaningful environmental change.
“If the government will not listen, then it will take a lot more behind-the-scenes work to create real change,” said Prerna Bhat FES ’19, who attended a screening of Bidder 70, a movie that follows the career of environmental activist Tim DeChristopher.
A college student himself when he successfully sabotaged an illegal Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction to save tens of thousands of acres of Utah’s red rock country, DeChristopher modeled successful civil disobedience.
Aidan Smith FES ’18, who coordinated the Bidder 70 screening, said the week helped bring the University together.
DeChristopher’s legacy resonates with many students at the School of Forestry, Smith noted. “At FES, maybe we won’t all engage in civil disobedience, but we’re all going to do something, and, as a school, across the different cohorts, we find solidarity in that,” he said.
Smith said he is optimistic about the sustainability week’s long-term impact and hopes that people who attended the events will carry the spirit of the week into the rest of their lives.
Although the week was nominally a celebration, the events focused on the work to come.
“It would seem that we’re nearing the point of no return, that much is clear,” Bhat said. “But we shouldn’t just give up. We have to keep fighting.”
DeChristopher will be coming to the school of Forestry and Environmental Studies to speak on Oct. 24.
Josh Purtell | firstname.lastname@example.org