Christopher Newport students bring the fight for climate justice home

In solidarity with the Global Youth Climate Strike, students march and distribute petition demonstrating a desire to see climate action

Last Friday, I covered the “Fridays for Future” Climate Strike that 16-year-old movement-founder Greta Thunberg brought to the front steps of the White House. This event was inspiring to say the least, but it wasn’t where Greta or any other climate activist stopped; in fact, it was a preparation in a lot of ways for the largest global climate demonstration in history.

This past Friday, September 20th, an estimated 4 million activists across 156 countries took part in the Global Climate Strike. Here at Christopher Newport, students came together to demonstrate our community’s desire to see climate action here on campus, many saying that our university can and should be a leader on climate change. Activists of this movement are urging climate justice in the form of action plans, policy reforms and fossil fuel divestments on international, national, state and local levels. But what does it mean to “bring this fight home” and how can Christopher Newport alone act as a “climate leader”?

Climate change is a wildly complex issue, caused by human greenhouse gas emissions but with no single source and therefore no single, easy solution. Some argue that individual lifestyle choices can make the biggest difference, like voting for sustainably-minded representatives and engaging in sustainable practices like biking over driving, reducing energy consumption and more. Many others recognize that our current economic, socio-political and cultural systems have provided massive safety nets and subsidies to large corporations and institutions that have actively made the climate crisis exponentially worse over decades, and therefore rendering individual action much harder and seemingly insignificant. With a system that seems so painfully rigged against our planet and our prosperity as a generation, how can we even begin to fathom solutions that are cost-effective, significant and practical? This issue is so large, so complex and so global that it seems hard to justify local actions as a significant capacity for change.

If I have learned anything in these past two weeks, however, it is that the solutions to major problems have always and must always start with what is right in front of you. Many people are scared of the possibility that climate change will permanently alter their communities with forest fires, unprecedented heat waves or (more locally) with rising seas and estuaries. This fear alone shows that it is because we have so much still worth fighting for in our towns and our communities that we must push forward, and we do so by starting with local solutions and missions. But what do these local solutions look like and how can we effectively enact them?

A question I myself and Green Team President Andrea Errico were asked multiple times in the organization of this demonstration was “what is your goal?” or “what do you guys want to get out of this?”; what do we hope to get out of this conversation about our role in climate action? What I (and I am sure Andrea and most every other student at the demonstration) would answer to that question is that we want to lead in this fight for the future and we want to start right here at CNU by formulating a climate action plan. 

Climate action plans are a common trend across the nation from public and private colleges and universities. If you think about it, with over two-thirds of people over 25 in the United States having a bachelor’s degree or higher, and even more people working and even living in college-towns and universities, these institutions have significant energy and waste footprints. It is no wonder that more than half of the public universities in the state of Virginia have joined or released some form of climate action or sustainability plan, and it is a massive trend across the nation’s most elite institutions to develop and formulate such plans. 

Christopher Newport, although a coastal college in an area predicted to be impacted by climate issues like sea level rise, has not yet released a public, transparent climate action or sustainability plan. How we plan to act and lead on climate change is an issue that, at the moment, seems to be left unaddressed by our appropriate institutional leaders, yet one that students, faculty, staff and community members alike care deeply about. So you, whether you are a student, faculty or staff member, may be asking yourself: what can I do to help push this issue into the focus of those who could possibly finalize and enact a climate action plan? 

My answer would be three-fold: (1) add your voice to the Christopher Newport Community Climate Petition, (2) share the message that we, as a campus and community, can and should be leaders on this issue right here at home and (3) have those tough conversations about why this issue is important to you and why we cannot and should not wait any longer to act. You can scan the QR code located in this article to access the student-led community climate petition to demonstrate your desire to see climate action here at Christopher Newport. 

To close and reflect on the nature of this issue, I would like to reference a quote from President Paul Trible that has truly inspired me recently. 

In a captivating video about the growth and significance of our university on a national scale, President Trible said “We reject the notion of incremental change, we’re in the business of dramatic transformations and everything we do is done at the highest level of excellence… we want our students to live lives of meaning, consequence and purpose. We want them to lead, serve, engage, love and set the world on fire… we call it a life of significance.” To me, leading a life of significance means acting bravely and boldly on issues like climate change that threaten our very futures. I hope that you, in whatever capacity you may exist as a part of this community, can agree with me that it is foundational to who we are as a community of leaders dedicated to service to act on this issue.

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

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