In the midst of midterms and tech week, between practice and club meetings, you may have passed by Paresky this week and wondered why there were tents set up on the lawn and a few crazy students trying to keep them from being blown away. During my time tent-sitting every evening and between classes on Thursday, I overheard hypotheses and commentaries ranging from “it’s an environmental awareness thing” to “don’t they realize they aren’t saving that much energy sleeping outside if they’d have the lights off in their room anyway?” I hope people understood what we were trying to accomplish with a week of sleep-outs, but I want to clarify the specific purpose of the event. I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight that now is the time to act, and that we can all be leaders in creating change on our campus and in our country.
When I say that now is the time to act, I’m not making a grand metaphorical statement. It is literally now that we have to start finding solutions to our global energy problem. Not only are we running out of nonrenewable energy sources like fossil fuels, but we will reach a tipping point in the next few decades after which climate changes will be irreversible. While there may still be some skeptics who question the tipping point argument, the way I see it is that global temperature increases that bring flooding, droughts, famine and natural disaster (and the host of issues, from war to disease to poverty, which follow) are not something we should be comfortable betting against.
While the sleep-outs were certainly planned in connection with Do It in the Dark, the two events had distinct goals. Do It in the Dark is about experimenting with changing habits, with the idea that competing to reduce your energy use for a week can be the beginning of an ongoing effort to turn off the lights when you don’t need them, unplug your unused appliances, take shorter showers and turn down the heat. These are all behaviors we promote during Do It in the Dark because they’re part of a behavioral shift towards reduced energy consumption, which has to happen because if we keep using energy the way we do now, we may run out of fossil fuels before we can convert to a more sustainable system.
Sleeping out, however, is not a viable method of reducing energy consumption. We’re not advocating that we abandon modern civilization and move outdoors for the rest of our lives. Rather, sleeping out is a way of protesting the dirty electricity that powers our dorms, our state and our country. The Leadership Campaign is a statewide coalition working towards the goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2020, championing the idea that if our federal government isn’t taking the necessary steps to combat climate change, we can lead the way on the local level. To this end, “An Act to Create a Repower Massachusetts Emergency Task Force” was introduced to the Massachusetts State Legislature as the first step in moving our state towards 100 percent clean electricity. The Leadership Campaign has been holding sleep-outs since the fall in order to build their movement and show our legislators how important this issue is.
I went to my first sleep-out a few weeks ago in Amherst, where the spirit of coalition building didn’t prevent the Ephs present from pointing out that the complete lack of Amherst students clearly highlighted the obvious inferiority of our rivals. I was struck by the sense of empowerment I felt from giving up my warm cozy bed for a night and saying to my representatives and the public, “I feel so strongly about creating a just and sustainable energy system that I refuse to sleep in a dorm powered by ‘dirty’ electricity from an extractive, polluting and exploitative system.” We may not be able to get off the grid completely in protest, but it is the nature, rather than the existence, of the grid that we’re protesting. Sleeping out sends a strong visual and moral message that our representatives can’t ignore.
So how do we become activists and leaders when we have papers to write, midterms to study for, practice and rehearsals and job applications? This week may not have been a good week for you. Maybe you really needed a good night’s sleep, or didn’t have time to check out a sleeping bag – and that’s okay, although major props to everyone who did decide to sleep out or stop by a meeting! But we can all ask ourselves, in the face of the crisis of our generation, what we can do within our purple bubble that can affect the world outside. No one is perfect, but we can all wake up, and sleep out – or do whatever else it takes – to create the change that has to happen.