Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2018

A renown guest at St. Olaf College tries to wake it up

While I have been very disappointed with my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield MN, for its inadequate actions against climate change, I was pleased to note that the college recently hosted one of America’s most distinguished thinkers to discuss this and related topics. MIT Emeritus Professor Noam Chomsky is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, and social critic. A video of his presentation at St. Olaf College can be seen at

As you watch it, please pay particular attention to the second portion of his talk dealing with climate change and, at the very end of his talk (in his response to a student’s question), his brief comments dealing with the detrimental effects business as usual models have had on our colleges and universities. My alma mater is, indeed, now a very well-healed business as evidenced by their beautiful quarterly publications that now focus on their extensive studies abroad programs. If one did not know better, one might think they were reading the advertisements of a travel agency. An associated deficiency in those quarterly reports, however, is an absence of leadership concerning the greatest problem facing mankind today – climate change. The authors of these publications do not even acknowledge that the multitude of students, faculty and interested alumni they send to the far corners of the Earth each year are unnecessarily contributing directly to global warming.

The strong emphasis St. Olaf College places on its extensive studies abroad programs using high-carbon-footprint means of transport – along with its continued investments in fossil-fuel-intensive industries – all work against our climate change problem. All of this sets an example that is in the opposite direction of that promoted by their visitor, Professor Chomsky. I have been trying to get St. Olaf College to recognize these shortcomings for more than three years now ever since my post of May 2015 on this blog entitled “The present disconnect between modern climate science and St. Olaf College, for example.” I have also used St. Olaf as an example of inadequate leadership on climate change in a half-dozen other posts at since then – all with no detectable impact, as far as I can tell. Hopefully, the leadership of St. Olaf College will take the advice of their distinguished guest, Professor Chomsky, more seriously. Colleges and universities such as St. Olaf should not think they deserve a pass on the elimination their CO2 emissions because of all the other “good things” they do. Mother Nature does not differentiate between “ethical” and “harmful” CO2.  All of it contributes equally to the warming of our planet.

Apparently, I hold my alma mater to a higher intellectual and moral standard than its President and Board of Regents do. That is undoubtedly why my missives to them have been largely ignored, to date, even though I am a St. Olaf graduate whose lifetime research has contributed significantly to our understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere (see my resume at Therefore, I hope the StO community is at least listening to the message provided them by Professor Chromsky. There really is a huge disconnect between St. Olaf College and the scientific community on the subject of climate change and what must be done by all people and all organizations to confront it. No, StO College should not think it has earned a pass on climate change action just because the electrical needs of its campus are now provided by a wind mill and solar panels. While St. Olaf College might think it is a special place, it is not that special. It must join all other organizations in trying to eliminate all emissions of greenhouse gases. Only in this manner can St. Olaf College meet our expectations of it for leadership in the fight against the greatest problem facing all of mankind today.

PS:  For those of you who appreciated the style, depth, and relevance of Professor Chomsky’s comments referred to above – as I did – I will call your attention to another recent address of his below which focuses almost entirely on the specific problem of global warming.  He is truly a national treasure whose observations and assessments of post WWII American history now provides an invaluable source of information for younger Americans.

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