Congratulations, Bowdoin. You have made a significant step forward in making carbon neutrality by 2020 a more realistic goal.
I refer, of course, to President Mills’s announcement last week that the Board of Trustees has approved a solar grid project on land by the former Naval Air Station. If built, the project will be eight times larger than any currently existing solar array in Maine, and would offset 8 percent of Bowdoin’s annual electricity usage.
This is no mean feat. To my knowledge, it represents the single sexiest thing the College has done to lessen its environmental impact since it first announced plans for carbon neutrality in 2007. The solar array was nothing but vague potential in the first Climate Neutrality Implementation Plan in 2009, and still mired in vocabulary like “we are considering planning” in the 2011 update. An announced proposal for the solar panel system—although downsized 35 percent to 1,300 kilowatts from the original 2,000—shows that the College is indeed making strides toward carbon neutrality.
So yes, congratulations, Bowdoin. I, for one, was proud of President Mills and the Board of Trustees when I learned of the announcement—it came as quite the surprise. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t help but feel removed from the decision. My absence from campus while I study abroad doesn’t matter: I wouldn’t have been invited to attend the meeting, to voice my support for the project, to urge the Trustees to go further. No students (save a few members of BSG, I believe) would have been allowed behind the closed doors where the Board meets.
This is odd, since the decisions the Trustees make directly influence our future—and no decision has more impact than how Bowdoin confronts climate change. Many of you will recall how a student group publicly lost its charter in the effort to lobby for a meeting with the Board last May. Members of Bowdoin Climate Action, including this proud student, camped out on the Quad right before finals because we believed we had the responsibility to let our decision-makers know that young people care about climate change and climate justice. We petitioned our governors because we wanted an audience with those who make decisions about our college and our future. We wanted to help.
The Board’s decision to approve the solar array is an important step but it misses the point. Students fighting for divestment is less about “divestment” than it is about “students fighting.” The burdens of a warmer planet—especially the injustices facing the world’s poor—will fall squarely on the shoulders of this generation. Climate change has thrust upon today’s students new challenges and new responsibilities that previous generations (yes, including the one running the College) have never known. Is it so strange that we want to be involved?
I would like to think that calls for divestment hastened plans to build the solar array. I’d also like to think that, had students been present at the meeting, we could have asked why stop at building the grid—why not also move our investments from the fossil fuel industry to companies like SolarCity Corp, simultaneously reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrating we no longer want to be a part of the corporations that fuel climate change?
Last May, 24 professors wrote a letter addressed to the Bowdoin Community thanking Bowdoin Climate Action for putting climate change at the top of the College’s agenda. The conversations inspired by the group, the note said, “engage[d] the entire Bowdoin community (students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees) in meaningful reflections on the College’s mission.”
Implicit in the idea of community that these professors reference is the joint responsibility between all members working together. All must share in the struggles and celebrations. All voices must be heard.
To highlight how the Bowdoin community finds creative solutions together, the professors point to the initial reason why Bowdoin committed to carbon neutrality: a group of motivated students who thought it was time to take responsibility for our greenhouse gas emissions. Now, it is time to take responsibility for our investment practices and make them reflect the values that this community holds.
When the President and the Trustees announce decisions that have a positive influence on our future, we want to be more than proud. We want to be involved as well.
Matthew Goodrich is a member of the Class of 2015.