“Environmentalism isn’t just about carbon and whales and polar bears—ultimately, it’s about people,” Joe Shortsleeve, GS ’14 and a member of Barnard Columbia Divest, said at the group’s Earth Day event in Butler Plaza on Tuesday. “It’s easy to think of climate change as a math problem or a science problem but it’s really a human problem.”
To that end, BCD planned a series of talks and activities throughout the day and encouraged professors to hold classes outside with the goal of transforming Columbia into an “Earth university” for Earth Day.
“We’re trying to bring some energy back into climate justice work. ... We’re trying to bring people together to think deeply and critically about the serious societal challenge that is climate change,” Shortsleeve said.
The day’s organizers said they hoped the day would help to build a communal sense of environmental responsibility.
“We want people to see climate justice as being at the center of every discipline, because it poses a challenge to everything,” Daniela Lapidous, CC ’16 and a BCD member, said. “We can either unite to face that challenge together or we can all fail.”
She said that Earth Day can serve as a platform to inform students about the wider environmental effects of their everyday actions.
“Honestly, Earth Day in and of itself doesn’t matter that much—I think it’s much more important to be environmentally engaged every day. If we just limit thinking about these issues to one day we’ll never get anywhere,” she added.
Participating professors also said they appreciated how the day brought students out, both literally and figuratively, into the larger environment.
“Environmentalism has the capacity to bring together lot of people across different disciplines around these common issues,” Karl Jacoby, a professor who took his class on the ecological history of North America outside for the day, said.
“I’m delighted that students are doing this. I think these are wonderful learning opportunities. ... I’m hoping they’ll start to help people understand the richness of environmentalism and the need to interrogate, to understand, to be more self-conscious about what we’re doing every day.”
Columbia has a long history with Earth Day—a group of Columbia students helped to organize the first ever Earth Day in New York in the winter of 1970, after hearing a speech by environmental activist Denis Hayes.
Barnard Columbia Divest hopes to continue using Earth Day as an opportunity for activism.
“I see today as an opportunity to bring Earth Day back to its roots,” Darragh Martin, an English professor and founding BCD member who gave two talks during the day, said.
“Columbia has the capacity to be a megaphone. ... Divesting from these companies will likely have a negligible impact on them but the symbolic impact would be huge,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to come together and make climate change a moral issue. ... People need to think about the fact that the money we bring to Columbia is going to fund climate injustice.”
Participants in the day’s programs said the activities prompted them to think about environmental issues.
“Columbia is a great place to learn, but kids need to think about where their money, or their parents’ money, is going,” Kevin Connell, CC ’07, who participated in the day’s events, said. “You can sit and think in a classroom for four years and never ask yourself about the effects of your actions.”
“The way we think about climate change matters. It’s not just cold, hard science,” Irina Teveleva, CC ’17, who attended a number of the day’s events, said.
“I think it’s something the community needs to come together around,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s something that can happen today but it’s something we need to work on.”