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Op-Ed: It’s time for climate change activism

On Friday March 15, in more than 120 countries around the globe, hundreds of thousands of students marched against climate change. On March 29, thousands of youths rallied against the threat in Berlin

Students should be marching. Although humanity knew about this dire threat for more than 40 years, we botched the opportunity to take serious steps to lessen the ravages of climate change. As a result of our inaction, we are now confronted with the enormous challenge of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to avert catastrophe.

As I cheered the student marchers, it occurred to me that the vast majority of them were schoolchildren, not college students. And that realization led me to ask, why aren’t college students in the forefront of climate change activism?

Like your younger brethren, you will live the remainder of your lives under the increasingly devastating impacts of a changing climate. Sea levels will rise; droughts will increase; extreme weather events will multiply; deserts will expand; species will go extinct; food shortages will occur; millions of climate refugees will seek safe havens; tropical diseases will proliferate; resource wars are likely to take place. And living in the good old USA will not protect us from most of this horrific disruption.

As United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently stated: “We are in a race for our lives and we are losing. The window of opportunity is closing — we no longer have the luxury of time, and climate delay is almost as dangerous as climate denial.”

So again, I’m asking, why aren’t college students, and specifically Stanford students, in the forefront of climate change activism? Your generation is likely to suffer the brunt of climate change impacts. My generation has failed you. The people in their 50s, 40s and 30s have failed you. Now it’s up to you to get very actively involved. Humanity needs you — the Earth needs you.

I’m sure that most college students are aware of the massive threat posed by climate change. And, presumably some of you are engaged in various activities to combat climate change such as educating others about the threat, researching clean energy alternatives, promoting sustainable practices on campus and driving electric vehicles.

All of these activities are good, and they are necessary. But we need much more than that. This is a time when high profile student activism is critically needed.

We need a massive student movement to fight climate change. The widespread activism in opposition to the Vietnam War can serve as an example. College students were heavily involved in that movement, often as substantial leaders. Many of them were motivated by self-preservation.  They didn’t want to be drafted and die in that stupid war.

You need to realize that you already have been drafted — and this time there’s no deferment for bone spurs. Your lives are in deadly peril. Unless you activate yourselves and mobilize, the trajectory of your lives is likely to be dramatically altered by climate disruption in the not distant future.

Don’t look to me for answers. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve already failed you. But here are some suggestions for how to get started right here at Stanford.

Learn from the Vietnam mobilization and start with campus-wide teach-ins. Then rapidly organize a “You Can Make a Difference” conference like to ones that used to happen here. At the conference you can plot out an array of activist strategies to expand the movement to other campuses and the public at large. In the process, connect with activist groups like 350.org that are already addressing this issue.

And don’t forget, there’s a national election taking place in 2020. This is the most important election of our lives! Get involved in it. We need to emerge from it with elected officials in Washington who truly understand that we are facing a global climate crisis and are committed to urgently enacting policies that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and place our economy on a sustainable path.

Stanford students, it’s up to you. Don’t let another comfortable blue-sky day on “The Farm” delude you. If you don’t act and mobilize now, you will regret it for the rest of your lives.

— Michael Closson, former Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Stanford University, 1972 – 1976.

Contact Michael Closson at micloss7 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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