Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 31, 2017

Why I give St. Olaf College such a bad time

Those who have followed this website have noted that I have frequently used my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, as an example of the weak leadership that has been provided, to date, by our institutions of higher education in the fight against global climate change. While considering the reasons why I do this, I recently came across an essay by Business Green author Leo Barasi who shares my concern, and provided the answer to the question posed in my title. On December 27, 2017, Mr. Barasi wrote:

“2017 has left climate deniers with nowhere to go. Merciless hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, and droughts swept the planet all year, along with impossible-sounding fires – in icy Greenland; and in California in December. All are an early taste of what life on a hotter world would be like. Public opinion recognizes the link with climate change, with international polls showing that worries about global warming are now at record levels with vanishingly few people thinking it’s a hoax.

Yet the climate war is far from over. While climate denial may have lost, there is another problem: climate apathy. Most people understand climate change is happening, but just don’t think about it much and don’t accept they should change their lives to deal with it. This matters because stopping dangerous climate change won’t be possible with only popular measures like replacing coal power stations with solar panels. There will have to be difficult changes too, like cutting emissions from flying and meat eating. So long as many people are apathetic, governments will avoid the hard changes that are also needed.

The death of climate denial is one of the most under-appreciated stories of 2017. When the climate deniers played their hand this year they found the world had left them behind. But climate apathy is proving more resilient than denial, and is stopping the world confronting what it will take to live up to its promise to stop dangerous warming. It will take more work to turn that apathy into action.”

So that, in a nut shell, is why I am giving St. Olaf College a bad time. I am trying to get them to move beyond their present state of apathy concerning the most important problem of our time. My alma mater should be providing much more leadership on this issue than it does considering the abundant assets St. Olaf College has in all intellectual areas, including both the sciences and the humanities. Up to this point in time, however, its timid response to this potentially catastrophic problem is very disappointing to those of us who have personal connections to the college and also understand the science behind global warming (my St. Olaf education was not waisted). From my own interactions with St. Olaf on this topic, I believe that the college needs to recall the fact that it was intended to be much more than a successful financial enterprise catering to business-as-usual forces of its region. As it enters the new year of 2018, St. Olaf College might consider living up to its original motto, “Onward, onward, Christian soldiers!” and its new one “Oles can and Oles will” by joining worldwide efforts to preserve livable conditions on the only planet we have. For starters, St. Olaf can help in this effort by changing or terminating its most carbon intensive activities and by divesting itself from carbon intensive industries. In addition, it should stop suggesting that its windmills and solar panels provide it with a free pass to some sort of “pretend world” with respect to their other high carbon activities. Living in the real world, where there are no such things as “good” or “ethical” emissions of carbon dioxide, is the only way any of our institutions can be of assistance.



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