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The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: Grinnell’s Climate Change


letter to the editor graphic

From a brief look at the Grinnell website, I have a few questions, and some not very encouraging answers: I’m wondering where Grinnell College stands on climate change. Those of you now in school have everything to gain from a sustainable planet and much to lose with the course on which we are traveling. Old codgers like me have little at stake in this arena. (Of course if I lived in the Charleston, South Carolina corridor last Oct. 4 and had experienced their 1000-Year rain with more than 20 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, I might not be so cavalier. That was the sixth such storm in the U.S. since 2010.)

Here are two observations you might consider: First, “Global warming crushes records. Again. What we are seeing has no precedent” according to Tom Randall in Bloomberg Business on Feb. 2, 2016. Second, “it has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants.” Wind and solar are “disruptive” — the cleaner energy production we have, the more of it we use and that drives the cost of coal energy up and the use of coal down, according to Randall in Bloomberg Business on Oct. 6, 2015.

The decision-makers for Grinnell’s endowment and management have an opportunity to set the College on the path to clean energy. This issue is complicated, no doubt. The issue is probably less about purity and more about direction. Starting with divestment of coal-fired energy, then investing in clean power and green technologies, the capital of Grinnell’s investment portfolio becomes “disruptive,” according to Randall and reinforces the drive to clean energy.

Since I have little knowledge about what things are actually going forward on campus, I hope you will tell me “lots” and that will be a relief. But from the outside it doesn’t feel like that. The website has precious little to offer. I don’t see solar panels on flat roofs. Or a wind generator. It feels like Grinnell hasn’t grasped the threat we all face. Grinnell’s “strong tradition of social responsibility and action” somehow doesn’t include the most urgent threat facing our species. Saying this is a disappointment is an understatement.

Grinnell does not teach its students unbridled self interest, but rather how to search for the common good. What is more of a common good than the social injustice of the impact of climate on world populations? What can be more of a common good than a sustainable planet? As one of the important educational institutions in the country, does Grinnell lead or stand apart?

—Gof Thomson ’61

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