Disclaimer: The writer of this post is not affiliated with Wes, Divest! The opinions expressed in this post are hir own.
On Friday evening, about forty students gathered in the Exley lobby for a vigil in conjunction with Global Divestment Day, a worldwide event aimed at drawing attention to the destructive nature of the fossil fuel industry. Following other events related to Global Divestment Day, including a banner drop at Usdan and a Climate Shabbat at the Bayit, the vigil, hosted by Wes, Divest!, was held not as a political statement again fossil fuels, but to commemorate the many victims of climate change.
Students stood in a circle holding electric candles. In an opening speech, Sam Curry ’17 reminded us:
Tonight is not about volume. Tonight is not about placing limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Tonight is not about rising global temperatures or receding glaciers and ice sheets. It is not about rising sea levels or increased ocean acidification. And it’s not about the irreversible global damage that we are causing. Because we already know that.
Rather, tonight is about the 400,000 people killed annually as a result of climate change. Tonight is about the millions more affected by the results of climate induced disaster – drought, famine, flooding, loss. Tonight is a night of remembrance, a night of respect, but also, a night of hope. Hope for a better, just future.
Other students then shared concerns and stories, about everything from droughts in São Paulo and California to forced relocation of communities in Alaska and the Pacific Islands to the experiences of American refinery workers. Many of the stories focused on environmental racism and classism, noting the disproportionate negative effect of climate change on low-income and minority communities.
This is an important reminder for anyone even remotely involved with environmental movements. Many of us, myself included, are drawn to the stories of melting ice caps, desertification, animals losing their habitats. We notice rising gas prices, or grocery store produce becoming scarcer or more expensive. While climate change does and will affect all of us, many of us at Wesleyan, by virtue of our race, class, and/or educational privilege, have the resources to adjust to climate change while maintaining our way of life. As one student brought up, the university is able to protect against and rebuild after storm damage in ways that, for example, much of the North end of Middletown is not. It is vital to remember not only the danger climate change presents to our lives and the natural world, but the damage already happening to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, many of whom are already disadvantaged.
After the speak out, a four-minute moment of silence was observed to honor the millions that have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer as a result of climate-induced disaster. The event ended with a sing-along led by Maya McDonnell ’16. As I walked home, humming the final refrain of “We believe that we will win,” I felt tentatively hopeful. We can hardly afford to think otherwise.