The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary April 20, 2007

Earth Day Messages, other letters

To the Editors:

Earth Day at 37!

The celebration of the Earth begun in 1970 is now a worldwide event. What began mostly as an antipollution movement has become a larger effort that joins issues of environment with those of justice, economy and security — connecting what otherwise seem disparate and unsolvable issues.

Thirty-seven years ago, however, the possibility of rapid climate destabilization was not widely understood. But the scientists who authored the fourth report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describe it as the defining issue of the 21st century. To solve climate change will require a rapid worldwide transition to energy efficiency and solar energy, the collateral benefits of which include climate stability, less pollution, improved public health, less dependence on oil imported from unstable regions hence no oil wars, improved balance of payments, increased technological innovation, more jobs, a more robust and resilient economy and the elimination of oil money on U.S. politics. Will the costs of the transition be unacceptable, as the few remaining climate skeptics assert? After subtracting the collateral benefits from the costs the net results could be positive. At worst, however, the transition to efficiency and renewable energy would be a great deal cheaper than paying the incalculable costs of procrastination.

Technological change associated with the transition to an efficient and solar power society, however, just buys us some time. The underlying problems are political, ethical, legal and philosophical and all have to do directly or indirectly with the fair distribution of costs and risks during this transition as well as the rights of posterity where their life, liberty and property are jeopardized by our action or inaction.

Oberlin College now has a good environmental policy, a faculty committee focused on campus sustainability, an able sustainability coordinator, and, finally, a commitment to join the growing movement among colleges and universities to become a carbon neutral campus. We should pause on Earth Day 2007 to celebrate that progress that fits the leadership heritage of this institution.   

–David W. Orr
Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies

To the Editors:

Earth Day, for those of you who might not be aware, is this Sunday, April 22. This presents us with a good opportunity to reflect on the troubles of the world, their root causes and impacts and, most importantly, what can be done about them.

Regardless of one’s political, religious, ideological, philosophical, academic or scientific proclivity, the world is a troubled place. The massacre at Virginia Tech, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global warming, poverty and oppression, the subtle and pervasive effects of long-term industrial development and the empire of global corporatocracy are areas of concern for us all whether or not we agree on their causes or impacts or even believe in them at all.

I fear that we as a society are becoming desensitized. Not just to violence or environmental or social justice concerns but to our own contributions, whether complicit or complacent, to the systems that are responsible for destruction, inequality, greed and exploitation. Decisions both great and small are often driven by personal motivation rather than a desire to do the right thing or act in the interest of the greater good. It’s easy to justify this. We’re simply doing our jobs, doing what we’re told, doing what’s easy, advancing our careers or supporting our lifestyle.

Can we as a society tear ourselves away from our cars, jobs, interest payments and television shows long enough to consider the consequences of our actions?  What are the broader implications of the decisions we make (or don’t make) every day? Why have we allowed ourselves to be sucked into a system that we know to be unjust? How have we deceived others and ourselves? Where have we deferred?

When we stop to think about these things we are almost certainly surprised at what we didn’t know, at what we thought we knew or at what we never thought to ask. We realize that even the strongest of beliefs are often relative at best. That money really can’t buy happiness. That just because it’s on TV doesn’t make it true. That we shouldn’t hold onto something just because it defines us. That we have more to gain than we do to lose by profoundly changing our priorities. We need to read between the lines of every newspaper article and question the deeper implications of web sites and radio and TV reports. We need to hold companies that take advantage of desperate people or pollute the environment accountable for their actions. We need to question the roles and functions of economic and social institutions and the people who are a part of them — ourselves included. We need a revolution in our approach to education. We need to subvert global distribution and communication networks to bring about positive and compassionate change. We need to get personally involved, speak out and act with compassion.

My vision is that sustainability represents the ultimate liberal art and as such is fundamentally important to the function of Oberlin as a liberal arts college. A community that recognizes the interconnections between the environment, economics, equity and aesthetics is one that understands the dynamic interactions of species and communities over time and during changing ecological conditions. A college that embraces sustainability commits itself to instilling a consciousness of these interrelationships and developing the skills necessary to create new possibilities and extend our ecological imaginations through any discipline, field, endeavor or area of study.

–Nathan Engstrom
Coordinator of Environmental Sustainability

To the Editors:

For the past three years, the life-changing experience that I have had on this campus is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I want to be the president of the class of 2008 because the position will help me to share the pride and regard that I feel the class of 2008 has for Oberlin College. I am proud of our class and want the privilege to represent us to the world.

As your class president I plan on working on the issues that the students really care about. I feel that if there is a problem on campus, or if someone has an idea of how to make their lives and the lives of others better, I want to hear it. As a member of this campus, I have always tried to diversify my own views by opening up to anyone. Everyone should feel free to e-mail, call, or come talk to me. The value of the thoughts and opinions of my constituents is something that I learned the importance of from my days of working as a congressional intern. I am ready to listen and act.

As a student and person, I have always been open to a wide range of ideas while bringing a strong set of ideas to the table myself. With regards to issues that the class president might take on, here are my thoughts:

Some of the people I envision bringing to campus as speakers: Maya Angelou, Al Franken, Jim Hightower, Brian C. Anderson, Sherrod Brown. Some ideas for the Senior Gift: giving the money to expand the Public Library’s computer lab, purchasing a mural or sculpture (it could be the new wisdom tree).  These, however, are just a taste of my ideas and I know you have better ones. I’m ready to hear what you have to say. The previous are two examples of the kind of creativity that I bring to the table and, if elected, I want to take all of the ideas and give them the attention they deserve to leave a legacy that the class of 2008 can be proud of.

In closing, I would just like to say that I know I am the best person to represent this class. I am an experienced public speaker, the most personable candidate and I promise to always leave a positive, lasting impression on prospective students, alumni, the Oberlin faculty and your friends and family.

Thank you for you consideration, and I encourage everyone to vote April 20-26. Ballots will be in your mailbox.

–Geoff Peterson
College junior



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