My Turn: It’s time for Dartmouth to act on climate change

  • Dartmouth College in Hanover AP

For the Monitor
Published: 4/23/2016 12:00:35 PM

We young people have big dreams for our world.

We are the physical embodiment of the future. We see the world’s horrors, yet we also believe that a better world is indeed possible.

As a young person studying climate change, I carry these dreams while also conducting research. In my undergraduate degree at Dartmouth, I’ve studied Arctic climate change. I’ve stood on the Greenlandic ice sheet, where I felt viscerally that I was a speck of dust. I studied tropical ecosystems. I read more scientific literature than I ever thought my brain could absorb.

Under the tutelage of world-class ecologists, I honed my scientific skills and became a researcher in my own right.

At the same time that I was undergoing this scientific training, I traveled to United Nations climate change negotiations as a youth delegate. I sat in sterile conference halls as suits carrying human bodies made decisions that flew in the very face of the scientific community’s findings. I felt my age in my bones as youth decried the political inaction of polluting countries. These countries refused to take responsibility for the world they agreed to leave to future generations.

As I straddled the worlds of research and policy advocacy, I asked myself: At which point do we concede that research alone will not be enough to solve the climate crisis?

I understood that advocacy was a duty that came with the power of my scientific knowledge. With the help and mentorship of others, I founded Dartmouth’s fossil fuel divestment campaign, knowing that divestment was an important tactic within a larger set of tools to shift society away from fossil fuels and toward the just transition to renewable energy science tells us is required in order to avoid catastrophic thresholds for climate change.

It was in that moment as a first-year student when I witnessed firsthand the cognitive dissonance in elite universities. We are leading the way in research on climate change, but we are not ourselves taking action that is appropriate based on those findings. To what extent are our university leaders willing to pay lip service and ignore this systemic problem at the cost of their students’ futures?

As someone who is researching and engaging in finding climate solutions, I am naturally growing tired of my university administration. I want Dartmouth to lead – precisely because I am empowered by what it is teaching me.

These calls fall on deaf ears. In our four-year campaign, Divest Dartmouth has yet to have an on-the-record meeting with our president or our board of trustees. We are student researchers, scientists, economists, policymakers – but the college won’t even grant us a dialogue.

That’s why we are organizing the Big Green Rally on our campus April 30, to show Dartmouth why our endowment must align with our values. We cannot settle for business as usual. We cannot settle for lip service. Dartmouth must move forward.

The college argues that its role is to engage in research; I argue that we are chronicling unprecedented chaos in very great detail, yet doing nothing to stop it.

I also wonder why, if Dartmouth cares so much about climate change, it is hosting Royal Dutch Shell’s climate adviser, David Hone – someone known to play a role in disrupting progress at those aforementioned United Nations talks – to speak on campus. Would we similarly accept a tobacco lobbyist speaking at our medical school?

The interest of the fossil fuel industry transcends the local context of Dartmouth and the international world of the U.N. It also affects our state politics. According to Granite State Progress, there is a strong connection between New Hampshire members of Congress and the fossil fuel industry.

As a young person, I dream big. But as a scientist, I think critically.

And I hear scientists ringing the alarm bells loud and clear: It’s time our leaders – from our college presidents to our members of Congress – heed the call.

(Leehi Yona is a senior fellow at Dartmouth College studying the intersections between climate change science, policy and advocacy. She is a recipient of the lieutenant governor of Québec’s Youth Medal and was named Canada’s Top Environmentalist Under 25 in 2013. The Big Green Rally will take place April 30 at 1 p.m. on Gold Coast Lawn at Dartmouth College.)

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