Ten years after the Seattle WTO riots, Monday, November 30 was again a date of protest, as activist groups across the nation organized and took action as a prologue to the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen. In the Commonwealth, students made plans to call attention to issues of coal-fired power plants, mountaintop removal mining, and other unsustainable practices on their campuses. An independent group of students planned a series of “banner drops” on Transy’s campus as part of this national event, only to have the banners removed within mere minutes of being unfurled. Apparently, the Administration found accusations of “greenwashing” and Dr. Seuss’s Lorax to be a serious threat to campus wellbeing, and called the Physical Plant to yank them down.
The very fact that a banner quoting Dr. Seuss (“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,/nothing is going to get better – It’s not.”) was almost-immediately ripped down is very telling; it’s almost a microcosm of the issues surrounding the environmental movement. I really don’t think any of these students were looking for trouble or wanting to cause a fuss; instead, they were just trying a more visible way to get the attention of the campus community, because apparently, nothing else seems to be working. Giving people food for thought–as these banners were meant to do–can help change opinions, but how is this to happen if said banners are quickly removed?
In the end, it all comes down to the status quo. Old, tried-and-true institutions (the coal industry, for example, though there are many others) got where they are today by avoiding change, for fear of being inconvenienced or reasons of economy. In a conversation with Fareed Zakaria earlier this year, Thomas Friedman (author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded) remarked that, instead of a supposed “green revolution”, “We’re having a green party. … You’ll know the green revolution is happening when you see some bodies—corporate bodies—along the side of the road: companies that didn’t change and therefore died.”
In a recent Newsweek article (“The Plan That Saved The Planet”), Al Gore urged us to give our answer to environmental issues“—not in words but in actions.” On November 30, a handful of Transy students decided to do the same; hanging some sheets from windows and trees to send a message for just a few minutes to say, “We know what’s going on. Most of you may be apathetic or slaves to the status quo, but some of us want to see some change around here.”
And as an aside, pointing the finger of greenwashing at the administration (as one of the dreadful banners did) is completely justified—making a big deal about sustainability initiatives while at the same time demonstrating an irrational fear of fallen leaves requiring the daily use of gas-powered leafblowers? Yeah, that’s greenwashing.