In the media lately there has been a lot of talk about divesting from fossil fuel companies. I applaud this. It’s important to use all the tools in the toolbox to stem the rising tide (pun intended) of climate change. However, divestment today will not change the way buildings are built tomorrow, the types of zoning regulations adopted, how food is grown or clothes are made. The reality is that change is a long, slow process. Some of the things we think have happened quickly, like the adoption of smart phones, have actually taken a decade to reach a 10% global penetration rate.
While a shrinking fossil fuel industry will impact energy costs, which in turn will lead to changes in purchasing decisions on a larger level (e.g. what type of power plant to build) and at a more personal level (e.g. what type of car to buy, whether or not to buy a car at all), and will eventually decrease greenhouse gas emissions, these changes take time.
In that intervening time, between the eventual collapse of the fossil fuel industry and now, change still needs to happen in the way it always has – by individuals making decisions in their daily lives. By office managers who change what is purchased by their department, by building project managers who decide to hire a company experienced in LEED buildings, by students who take the train to their internship instead of driving. By people making choices every day that can change something lasting, like how buildings are conceived and built, or something habitual, like how to get around.
So while it is tempting to focus all our energy on a single cure to a problem, we, as individuals, need to be prepared for the long and often tedious business of waking up every day and making decisions that will, over time, lead to change. This takes strength, stamina, and a lot of self-motivation and hope. It lasts more than three days or three months and is, most of the time, inglorious and unappreciated.
Campaign finance reform, fossil fuel subsidies, investment decisions – these are all things that need to change, but we also need enthusiasm and passion to make local changes, the ones that will make a difference in the immediate future and reduce our emissions now. The people and actions highlighted in the sustainability progress report released today are doing those things. They have taken the time and effort, often above and beyond what is required of them, to make Tufts a better, more sustainable place. We applaud them and thank them with all our hearts, for we recognize that what they do is not easy but is very, very necessary.