Professor Smithey has been teaching his course, “Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking” again this semester, and right now the second of two delegations of Swatties are on their way to Glasgow Scotland to observe the COP26 meetings (read their daily blog), so many of us have been thinking in considerable detail about the pace of climate disruption, who is responsible, impacts with respect to positive and negative peace, how to steer a global economy into an unprecedented turn, and more.
For reference, we want to just leave this carbon countdown clock right here:
Growing up in rural Kansas, Martin Tomlinson ’23 experienced the effects of the climate crisis firsthand.
“I saw my neighbors’ crops failing and the water in the creek behind my house beginning to dry out,” says Tomlinson, a double major in Peace & Conflict Studies and Religion with a minor in Environmental Studies. “As my town became more and more abandoned, I began to realize that this was the death of a way of life and of a community.”
Such evidence of the existential threat posed by the climate crisis continues: this summer alone, the United States experienced heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods that claimed hundreds of lives. A recent report authored by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global climate change is accelerating due to insufficient reduction of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Described by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres as a “code red for humanity,” the report suggests that limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a tipping point for increased risk of irreversible climate disaster, is no longer possible and that further warming can only be avoided by rapid and large-scale reductions of all greenhouse gases.
Faced with the enormity of the crisis, many students, including Tomlinson, feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the seeming inevitability that things will only get worse.
Social isolation caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also done little to alleviate the fear that the time for decisive, collective action has passed.
In this reality, it is critical to have a space for discussing the climate crisis and formulating action at both the individual and community level. At Swarthmore, a student-led workshop series, Climate Essentials, aims to fill this role by encouraging participants to “critically engage with the climate crisis in its many dimensions.”
The series of lectures and virtual meetings works to draw participants into community and build on an awareness that actions can be taken to combat climate anxiety.
Climate Essentials began in 2020 as a five-session pilot program under the direction of Atticus Maloney ’22 and Declan Murphy ’21, students in the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF) who developed a syllabus with guest speakers and recommended readings related to the climate crisis.
“Many of us at Swarthmore are grappling with the same concerns and questions about the climate crisis,” says Murphy. “We wanted to create opportunities for community members to talk about these things, hear other thoughts, and then work to translate conversations into action.”
This year, Tomlinson and fellow PSRF participant Maya Tipton ’23 took the reins of the now-virtual Climate Essentials course with help from Murphy and Terrence Xiao ’20, a sustainability and engaged scholarship fellow in the Office of Sustainability.
Although the move to Zoom initially presented challenges, the virtual format allowed for double the number of participants of the pilot program; this year’s series had more than 100 registrants, consisting of students, staff, faculty, community members, and alumni.
“The virtual environment actually helped create a strong sense of community because it made the course accessible to people who normally wouldn’t be able to join,” says Tomlinson. “We had alumni from all over the country calling in and students in different parts of the world participating as well.”
Over six sessions, the workshop covered topics such as “Indigenous Environmental Justice,” “Climate Science and Policy,” and “Planning for the Future,” and featured such speakers as Indigenous activist Enei Begaye Peter of the Diné and Tohono O’odham nations. The broad range of topics was designed to help participants understand the all-encompassing nature of the climate crisis and intersectionality within.
A spring course is planned. “It’s important to continually emphasize the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and racial justice,” says Drake, one of the project’s mentors. “If you care about social justice issues, you also need to care about the climate crisis because they are one and the same in many ways.”
“Ultimately, the goal is to build a critical mass of community members who understand the crisis and its urgency,” Drake adds. “Hopefully, that awareness will influence the way they approach their lives and there will be many impacts, however small, that result.”
Translating knowledge into action was the focus of the final session, which provided participants with an opportunity to reflect on their own impacts. For example, climate activist Fran Putnam ’69 planned to educate herself further on environmental issues faced by Indigenous people, while others planned to get involved with local organizations such as Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.
Holding Climate Essentials during this unique time led several of its organizers to reflect on the similarities between COVID-19 and the climate emergency, and what can be achieved through collective responsibility.
“I believe both crises result in part from a widely held belief that we exploit the planet, animals, and others without significant consequences,” says Tipton. “Climate change and COVID show us that we are not separate from our environment and other people — in fact, we are all deeply interconnected.”
“Gone are the days where we imagine we cannot sacrifice some aspect of our daily lives for the good of the whole,” adds Maloney. “Hopefully, we can channel this energy to make similar sacrifices for the survival of the human species in the face of climate catastrophe.”
On Wednesday, a group of students from Professor Smithey’s Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking course observed a nonviolent action mounted by Earth Quaker Action Team. EQAT has called on the private electric utility PECO to distribute 20% of its electricity from local solar installations by 2025. Currently, solar makes up less than half of one percent of PECO’s energy portfolio.
Activists blockaded PECO service centers in Phoenixville, Coatesville, and Warminster saying that PECO is not preparing for the climate disruption crisis and is not properly investing in the region it serves. EQAT’s campaign is called “Power Local Green Jobs”.
Four activists were arrested at the Phoenixville site, where Swarthmore students observed. News coverage, including statements from EQAT and PECO, are available here and here. EQAT’s press release is here.
Twenty-five students from the Peace and Conflict Studies / Environmental Studies course “Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking” toured the route of the Mariner East 2 pipeline (ME2) construction that runs near Swarthmore College.
The ME2, a Sunoco project, runs through highly populated neighborhoods in Delaware and Chester counties and beyond. It will carry compressed propane, ethane, and butane from fracking operations in the Marcellus shale fields of western Pennsylvania to the port of Marcus Hook, for shipping, mostly to Europe for the production of plastics (enough to produce 1 billion single-use bottles every day).
The ME2 pipeline carries highly flammable liquefied gases under pressure through populated suburban neighborhoods, often only feet from homes, schools, residential facilities, detention facilities, and businesses. The gases are odorless, invisible, and heavier than air, raising concerns about the possibility of evacuation in the event of a leak. The pipeline has generated significant and growing local opposition and has raised questions about risk and regulatory processes.
Our tour took us to Marcus Hook and its refineries, Hershey’s Mill Village, a large retirement community in the potential blast zone of the pipeline, and an elementary school near a valve station, where we met with a local resident and activist. We are immensely grateful to our guide, George Alexander, author of the Dragonpipe Diary, where you can find more investigative work on the pipeline and local campaigns to stop or regulate the pipeline.
On Wednesday November 7, Malinda Clatterbuck, a co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines and a staff member at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund will speak in our “Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking” course in Science Center room 183 at 10:30-11:20. You are welcome to attend to hear more about the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline and local resistance. (An RSVP to lsmithe1 would be welcome but not necessary.)
Last year, our class toured part of the route of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, including property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a Catholic order that is fighting the seizure of their land through eminent domain.
After class on November 7, anyone is invited to join us at noon for a brown-bag conversation over lunch in the new Sproul Hall kitchen (Room 205 in the Hormel/Nguyen Intercultural Center). Brown bag means you bring your own lunch. Drop by Essie Mae’s next door to grab some food if you wish, and then come join us. No need to RSVP.
Please mark your calendar for an exciting event serving as the capstone for Black History Month and the opening for Women’s History Month:
March 2, 2018
“Climate Justice and Civil Rights”
1:30-2:30pm: Swarthmore Meeting House
Reception and Gathering
3:30-5:00pm: Black Cultural Center
You are invited to a public lecture and conversation with Jacqueline Patterson, the Director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program.
A national leader who bridges civil rights and environmental justice, Patterson heads the NAACP’s initiatives to advance an inclusive, “just transition” to a renewable, green economy. At the heart of this initiative is Patterson’s commitment to ensuring that communities of color and those who are the most impacted by the harmful effects of climate change are at the center of the movement to create an equitable and sustainable future. Patterson’s long history of leadership has led her to serve as coordinator and co-founder of Women of Color United, and to advocate for the intersection of issues relating to women‘s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice.
This event is co-sponsored by: Environmental Studies, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Black Studies, Black Cultural Center, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Diversity, Inclusion & Community Development, Religious Studies, Peace & Conflict Studies, Political Science, Philosophy, Sociology & Anthropology, Office of the President, Health & Societies Initiative, and the Sustainability Office.
PEAC 055. Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking
(Cross-listed as ENVS 066, SOAN 055C)
The course will examine several ways in which climate change is a driving force of violent and nonviolent conflict and creates opportunities for peacemaking and social justice. Already, climate change has been identified by the U.S. military as a threat to national security, offering a new rationale for expanding the military industrial complex. Demands on scarce resources generate and exacerbate regional conflicts and drive mass movements of refugees. Behind these dramatic manifestations of climate stress lie extensive corporate and national interests and hegemonic silences that emerging conflicts often reveal. Conflict also brings new opportunities for peacebuilding, cooperation, and conflict resolution. Climate crises have renewed and expanded local and global movements for environmental justice and protection, many of which have historical connections with the peace movement. In support of the college’s carbon charge initiative, we will dedicate part of the course to understanding what constitutes the social cost of carbon and how it is represented in carbon pricing, particularly with respect to increasing frequencies of armed conflict and extension of the military industrial complex.
Alexa Ross ’13 delivered a wonderful tribute to Peace and Conflict Studies Prof. George Lakey, and Robin Harper, a friend of the Peace and Conflict Studies program, was also honored alongside three other elder EQAT activists: Vint Deming, Ann Yasuhara, and Allen Bacon. Friends, family, and comrades sang, read testimonials, and read the words of the honorees from interviews that were conducted before the ceremony. It was a wonderfully affirming and very intergenerational event.
Lee Smithey created an interactive timeline of biographical information about Robin Harper’s life work in the fields of peace, social justice, and climate justice.