This September, a new statue was raised on the corner of College Ave. behind the library, to much fanfare from the campus community. The striking 20-foot depiction of a plow forged from hundreds of guns invokes biblical imagery to advocate for the issue of gun violence. Its message is powerful, and it serves as a visible manifestation of this campus’s commitment to radical peace and justice.
This dedication to peace and justice is one of the most distinctive components of our school’s identity. It resonates across the breadth of campus, touching everything from student life and curriculum to strategic vision and campus management. It is one of the things that makes EMU an incredible, unique place.
But it often feels like the conversation around peace and justice lacks space for what is one of the greatest justice issues of our time: climate change. Experts believe that climate change will have wide-ranging effects on human well-being, in all facets of life. Droughts will render ancient farmland barren, rising seas will inundate entire cities, and intensified weather events will kill and displace millions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a wave of “climate refugees,” as people travel to flee disasters and replace lost livelihoods. This crisis will affect the world’s poorest regions the most, where factors such as high population density, reliance on agriculture, and political instability will exacerbate the effects of climate change. This crisis will change the lives of hundreds of millions of people, for the worse.
Given this sobering reality, climate change is relegated to a discouragingly small niche of our campus’s peace and justice conversation. We frequently pay it lip service within broader discussions about justice, but rarely find space for it on its own. Where, for example, was the campus-wide email in solidarity with island nations facing inundation, after President Trump announced the the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord? And why are so few students outraged by our university’s gross failure to comply with its own climate action plan (see “Our Climate Solutions and Our University”)? The issue of climate change clearly intersects deeply with our collective commitment to peace and justice, so why is it so absent from our conversation?
Maybe it is because opening this conversation means accepting our role in climate change. The choice to live our lives as high-consuming Americans implicates us, just as much as the institutions that have enabled this lifestyle, in cause of this crisis. When the story of climate change has been told, who will absolve us from responsibility?
Or maybe we lack a material grasp on the implications of a catastrophic climate change scenario. If this is the case, those of us who care have a duty to bring this fact to the forefront of the campus conversation. Climate change is not an issue to be trivialized or ignored — its affects will be catastrophic and massive.
If we are to mitigate the effects of climate change, communities and institutions committed to radical justice like EMU need to lead the way. We must be willing to make sacrifices, accept hard truths, and give shrill testimony to the magnitude of this crisis. As individuals, community members, and stakeholders in EMU we must push to recognize and address climate change as what it truly is — the justice issue that will define this century.