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As Haverford students playfully compete to see who can best “Do it in the Dark,” for all of us the global climate crisis continues to forebode a very gloomy present and future indeed.
Hosted by the Committee for Environmental Responsibility since 2015, the annual “Do it in the Dark” competition sets up dorms to best each other’s energy savings over a two- to three-week period. For HCA residents, the “meatless challenge” is an alternative contest in which individuals work on sustainable eating practices. Across campus, this popular form of fun in the name of “doing what you can” during “a period where personal efforts to combat climate change feel dire” (to quote the Haverford College Building Dashboard that keeps track of the CER competition) is now an iconic Haverford tradition.
While CER is well intentioned, there is so much that a flashy energy-saving competition doesn’t do—so much that it simply can’t do.
It does nothing to address the disproportionate suffering of communities of color that lies at the nexus of the COVID-19 pandemic and pollution. Just a short SEPTA ride away from us on campus, families in south Philadelphia have been plagued with respiratory conditions and rare cancers for decades due to pollution from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery (which finally shut down permanently in 2019). In the face of these rampant, massive health inequities and differential access to clean air and energy, trying a little harder to “do it in the dark” for three weeks feels bleak.
The climate crisis affects us all, including those of us who can afford to go vegan for a month and study in the shadows, basking in dorm camaraderie and the feelings of doing something good—not to mention the hopes of winning the coveted dorm prize. However, for the peoples of the world who continue to experience the brunt of oppressive power structures—including Black and Brown communities in the United States facing the ravages of environmental racism and ruthless capitalism every day—the acceleration of climate change in the coming years will make already dire living conditions even less survivable.
Some of us at Haverford know this very well from our own lives—from our own families’ struggles to keep afloat amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing capitalist oppression. Some of us have the privilege of having family members working at home or in well-ventilated, socially-distanced environments and the financial means to keep ourselves relatively safe and secure in calamitous times. However, if we have seen anything from the multitude of ills around us today, including COVID-19, American racism and xenophobia, and Haverford’s institutionally racist and inequitable structures, it is that we cannot deny the interconnectedness of all individuals and the intersectionality grounded in the experiences of injustice.
Environmental responsibility and climate justice do not just sprout out of sustainable behavior. In fact, they are deeply rooted in the fight for liberation, in the praxes of anti-racism and anti-capitalism, in Indigenous understandings of the interdependence of all living beings. In the challenging and crucial project of social justice, we must follow the lead and vision of leaders of color, like the Black womxn who organized the Haverford student strike, with our own firm and lasting commitments to the uprooting of oppressive systems.
To fight the climate crisis, the U.S. must create millions of good jobs to build a new energy grid, revitalize and revolutionize infrastructure, and strengthen and empower communities to care for themselves—especially those who have been historically oppressed. Not only would this lead to more environmentally sustainable towns and cities, but also dramatically reduce unemployment and put an end to the COVID-19-triggered economic recession. Put in human rather than economic terms: millions of people, including many BIPOC and folks belonging to other marginalized groups, will become food-secure and rent-secure as they contribute to the collective project of building a less destructive, more just world.
Of course, this is just the beginning: just a small yet crucial portion of the Green New Deal. The “GND” itself may be imperfect and evolving, and there is room for improvements such as furthering anti-capitalist efforts; nevertheless, it offers the first important actionable step towards change. We need to rise up together to demand that our elected officials serve their constituents and take this first step towards a healthier United States of America; that is considerably more prepared to face a changing climate.
The urgency of the climate crisis is acute. Quite literally, we are on a deadline. It’s impossible to be a Haverford student and not encounter messages on the dangers of climate disaster—whether through our classes, our clubs, our summer research opportunities or simply from the media we encounter daily. While we have so many calls upon our time, energy, and personal resources from our jobs, families, friends, partners, professors, and administrators, we truly need to be in this together.
Whether or not it is time for “Do it in the Dark,” in Sunrise Haverford, we recognize that collective action is the only way to rise to meet the challenges before us. It is the only way to create a more just and equitable future for all.
Under the new presidential administration, it is still up to us as the younger generation to push for the justice we seek. We urge you to join us as we engage with Sunrise’s Good Jobs for All campaign, one of many ways we are coming together to truly effect concrete change. After all, jobs that pay a decent living wage are an integral part of the vision for a “Green New Deal.” As Haverford’s Sunrise hub, we will spend the next two weeks gearing up so that by April 7, we can locally take part in the day of action, sending a direct message to our elected officials.
Our time is now. Let us all join the global fight for climate justice. So the next time you’re asked to “Do it in the Dark,” ask yourself if you are getting distracted from the bigger picture of climate justice, from the mandate we have to unite as young people around the world and rise up to meet the challenges of our time, lighting the way forward.
All are welcome to the hub! Sunrise Haverford generally meets Saturdays. On Monday, March 29, at 7 p.m., we are having a virtual meeting to prepare for a hub action on April 7. Sign up for Monday’s action prep meeting here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
While several Sunrise Haverford members contributed to this article, Margin Zheng ’23 and Naren Roy ’23 were the primary authors.