Man in the mirror: Why we need to take personal responsibility for the global climate crisis

September 28, 2016 by Robert Delfeld

Last week, I was immensely pleased to read the timely op-ed, “Illusion vs. Reality” (Sept. 21, 2016), written by Michael Gordon ’20. This piece called into question both the sincerity of the College’s attempts to combat our global climate crisis and the long term efficacy of its current initiatives. I applaud Gordon’s courage and eloquence in speaking truth to the powers that be, as it were, and I do not have any amendments to his argument.

I do, however, have an addendum.

When it comes to the macro, big-picture issues that not only our nation, but the human race as a collective community, faces, it is imperative to question and critique those powers we feel have a relatively greater role in the solution — government, officials, even the Board of Trustees. However, this is not sufficient — it is too easy to forget that the solution begins with each of us: the grassroots, the man in the mirror.

In April of this very year, our generation overtook the baby boomers as the largest age demographic in the United States. If we truly believe that climate change is the critical issue confronting mankind as our generation assumes the mantle of leadership, we must be just as hard, if not harder, on ourselves in truly being part of the solution.

How often do we run the faucet or the shower longer than we should? Do we unplug our chargers when we are not using them? Do we make a conscious effort to put that piece of leftover scratch paper from last week’s problem set in the recycling bin in the common room, instead of just tossing it in the trash can next to us?

Those are just the easy things. Do we truly think about our carbon footprint before we click “add to cart” on Amazon? Are we conscious consumers? Do we support companies that should be doing more in controlling their own environmental impact? We may point to them and say, “they are the problem” when, in fact, we allow them to continue to be. Are we not guilty by association?

I know you might be rolling your eyes — you have heard this before, but every outcome in this life is at the margin. The reason we are here at the College is because we are the people who believe in winning those marginal battles on a daily basis. What if we had worked a little less hard in high school? What if we had slept a little more, went out a little more, took the easy way out a few more times — would we be here?

To borrow a thought from a 1995 interview with Steve Jobs: if you alter the trajectory of a vector at its origin ever so slightly, you might not see much change for a while. However, when that same vector gets out far enough — there is a tremendous difference to be seen. Each of us has the opportunity to alter the vector of climate change each and every day. It’s true — some people and organizations have the means to change that trajectory more than any one of us, and compared to what they can do, it might not seem like much to flip off the power bar in our Sawyer carrels when we leave for the night. But it adds up — this planet will not be destroyed by one swift stroke, it will die by a million paper cuts.

Let’s not kid ourselves — the challenge that lies before us is monstrous in scope and almost incomprehensibly complex. If we have learned anything from Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, it is that there is still so much we do not understand and that there are no easy answers to the looming questions. It may seem like the effort of just one person is just a drop in the proverbial ocean, but we must not be daunted — or even worse, paralyzed. Now is the time for action, but we cannot pass the buck. Action must start with us — there is too much at stake.

We, the students of the College, know better than anyone that a little bit more effort makes all the difference. I will absolutely be the first to admit that I am not doing enough on my part, but I will continue to try each day to be better. Let me be clear: I am not diminishing the importance of advocating for change at the macro level, but I am insisting that we walk the walk as well.

If our generation might have a shortcoming, I fear it may be that we have lost sight of the power of the individual. Less than 20 percent of youth voted in 2014, the lowest turnout for that demographic in a federal election. This absolutely must change.

They say the future is in our hands, but we must never forget the meaning of “our.”

Robert Delfeld ’20 is from Colorado Springs, Colo. He lives in Sage. 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jonn September 29, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Robert, I applaud your search for greater harmony with our beautiful planet and the conservation of its precious resources, while searching for a just and reasonable solution of global warming.

Some advice for your journey at Williams and life:
True learning, in all disciplines, is done slowly and carefully. Less is More and Easy Does It and Gentle Simplicity are the axioms for all areas of life. As the Native Americans knew so well from an intuitive level, there is no harmony with creation until there is harmony with Our Creator in our soul.

A truly great man is one with a rich mind and soul, perfectly balanced. This is the great work which confronts us all. While at Williams, expend stress in regular workouts, take time to cultivate friendships with classmates and professors, take at least one easy class each semester to create a nice balance, and show compassion toward yourself, all of which will strengthen your soul, and provide solace, as you strengthen your mind. Seek to join a small group of activities and interests which, above all, are fun.

What happens outside the classroom is far more important than what occurs inside the classroom.

Above all, amidst the daily battles and grind, keep a long-perspective. You have a profoundly bright future, filled with Hope.


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