I hail from Canada — the land of hockey, maple syrup and (most recently) the tar sands.
The Alberta tar sands deposit is the third-largest known oil reserve in the world and has recently begun being exploited. These deposits are located in the traditional hunting and cultural grounds of many First Nations, most notably the Athabasca Chipewyan and Beaver Lake Cree Nations. The process that extracts bitumen — think a toxic peanut butter-like sludge — from tar sands is by far the dirtiest and most fuel-intensive oil extraction process in the world.
The tar sands play a significant role in furthering climate change and the U.S. is poised to dramatically influence the development (or lack thereof) of this region.
From Sandy and Irene directly impacting the Upper Valley to a White House report determining that every inch of the country will be negatively affected by global warming in the coming years, it goes without saying that each and every member of the Dartmouth community is connected to climate change in some way. But each and every one of us has the potential to act positively to lessen its effects on society.
Why should this matter to us? As Dartmouth students, we are far more powerful, far more capable of having an impact on this world than we may think.
We have the resources to influence society that others may not. Our alumni hold important positions as leaders and decision-makers. Take Todd Stern ’73, the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change and the most important delegate at the United Nations climate change negotiations. There are members of our community who have immense power to leverage positive change, and we as Dartmouth students have greater access to them than members of the general public. We must establish relationships with alumni that go beyond networking. Many alumni want to engage with us, so what are we waiting for?
Another resource oftentimes overlooked at Dartmouth is money. While it isn’t always easy to obtain, significant funding is available for us to pursue international or extracurricular experiences. This potential resource, combined with the Dartmouth name, gives students more opportunities to affect the global community than they may have years beyond graduation.
Considering these resources, taking action on broader issues such as global warming should be a no-brainer. We have a moral responsibility to our fellow Americans, to fellow global citizens affected by climate change and the human combustion of fossil fuels that is behind it.
We also have a responsibility to both our own and our future generations. What kind of world do we want for ourselves and for our children, if we choose to have them?
Our College’s mission statement asserts that Dartmouth’s aim is to prepare us for a “lifetime … of responsible leadership.” I cannot think of a situation where that rings more true than the climate crisis. In fact, following a community call for the College to examine the feasibility of divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies by proven reserves, the Board of Trustees issued a statement in which they asserted “Dartmouth supports … a sense of responsibility for each other and for the broader world. The use and management of Dartmouth’s resources are to advance this mission and these values.”
We as a Dartmouth community should uphold values of human dignity, compassion, responsibility and respect. Caring about communities such as those near tar sands development should matter to us because we are all affected by global warming. We are all inherently a part of the system that consumes fossil fuels. Living up to Dartmouth’s mission is about using these two realities to empower us rather than discourage us.
We can do so much more to rise to the climate challenge and to engage with our local and national communities. We can do better. And we must.
Leehi Yona ’16 is an organizer of the Divest Dartmouth fossil fuel disinvestment campaign.