Fast With Me: Raising Awareness for Climate Change

I’m in Warsaw, Poland right now for COP19, year 19 of the of UN climate talks.  The talks started on Nov. 11 this year, immediately following the devastating landfall of super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. On the first day of the talks, traditionally reserved for long thank you speeches, Philippine lead negotiator Yeb Saño begged those present to “stop this madness” and announced that he would fast “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

About 10,000 people were given credentials to COP19.  This conference occurs on an inhuman scale – it’s beyond any one person’s ability to understand.  I’m not convinced that any one of these ten thousand people understands everything that’s happening here.  A rich nation’s negotiator admitted to my friend that no one person on their delegation understood everything that was happening, though all together they had a decent idea.

COP happens because we haven’t yet solved the problem of climate change.  People are dying, and people are suffering because of that – most recently, in the Philippines because of super typhoon Haiyan.  Every year we fail again to make meaningful change is a year where we let the storms get worse and the body counts climb. Climate change is a painfully human problem.

That’s easy to forget in Warsaw, at the conference’s stadium with ten thousand other people.  According to the Executive Secretary, when we enter the stadium we enter “UN territory.”  So here we are, 10,000 in international territory – whatever that means – trying address a human issue.

If the UN climate talks are a way to make the storms stop getting worse, to make sure that the next Haiyan or the next Sandy kill or displace as few people as possible, then they are one of the most important things in the world. Nobody could, in good conscience, oppose the progress of the talks because that would and does cause homes to get destroyed and lives to be changed or ended. But this conference happens on an inhuman scale. We drown in policies and acronyms and “solutions.” Here in international territory, it’s hard to remember the human consequences of our actions.

This is why Saño’s fast is so powerful.   His fast reminds us of the people who don’t have food in the Philippines.  His fast reminds us of the humanity of climate change.  His fast reminds us at COP what’s at stake. I think a lot of people forget what’s at stake here, what’s at stake with climate.  I’m fasting to make sure I remember.  I’m fasting because I want to help other people remember. You can too; fast with us. Fast with us and tell your friends, your family to donate to the relief effort in the Philippines.  Fast with us and remind them what’s at stake as our climate changes.  Fast with us, what else is there to do in the face of this inhumanity? If you fast, please let us know –

To donate to relief efforts –

Colleges should focus on providing an affordable education, not attracting the wealthy

I want it all.  An entirely vegan, organic menu in the dining hall, an apartment-quality living space, unlimited seats in art classes, Public Safety that doesn’t care if I drink, and a four year degree in two years.

Oh, yeah, and I don’t want to pay a dime for it. Yes, that’s my perfect college. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist, and it never will.

Even more unfortunate is that when prospective students are looking for colleges, they’re not undergoing a search for the one that would be best for them.

Very few, I think, could care about the nature of SMCM’s honors community.

The students are shopping for college. Their parents care about statistics: return on investment, employment prospects, and the like.

Students care about how pretty the campus is, how new the buildings are, and everything else – money be damned!

Or at least, the rich ones do. There is a giant economic disparity at our nation’s colleges nowadays as a result of this shopping mentality: if you can’t afford to buy the product, get out of the mall.

If you want a high-quality private school education, you can expect to pay $50,000 a year.  Why?  For the same reason, apparently, that St. Mary’s has to replace all of its dorms over the coming decade.

Colleges have to compete against one another for the best students.

Here’s the way I see it.  We have two choices: one, everyone in college starts voting.

Our generation gets onto its feet, starts screaming and shouting and yelling and marching on Capitol Hill about how ridiculous the government’s lack of education spending is.

While we’re at it we could even get more spending on secondary schooling. Choice two: reduce spending in college.

For that one, everyone in college right now has to get onto their feet and start screaming, shouting, yelling, and marching on their university’s administrative offices about ridiculous tuition hikes that, at St. Mary’s, are almost four times inflation.

I’m a college student and I think tuition is too high. In other news, the iPhone 4 is now on Verizon.  Can you hear me now?

Congress sure as hell can’t, and I feel like its unreasonable to expect a student uprising without, say, the Vietnam War or tuition tripling over 2 years (see England).

So let’s change the mentality.  Not of the world, and probably not of the nation. No, let’s start with ourselves.

We need to make it clear to our colleges that we don’t want to subscribe to the shopping mall mentality and we want to save on tuition because of that.

Congress has been talking about health care reform since the 70’s, the bill only passed in 2010. So who are we to expect tens of thousands of financial aid dollars to come raining down out of the sky onto us overnight (or even over a year)?

Nobody, because the American Association of Retired Persons and every other citizen’s advocate has been campaigning for better health benefits longer than most of us have been alive.

Do our colleges value the idea of rich prospective students over providing an affordable education?  Not as a nation, but at Pacific Lutheran University and St. Mary’s.

I’m not sure about St. Mary’s – we like being weird, here, and our financial aid philosophy is to give smaller grants to as many people as possible.  But PLU?  Dyson Airblades are supposedly eco-friendly and all, but it’s kind of obvious when they’re only at the bathrooms that touring students use.