Residential students at the University of Connecticut have the opportunity this month to compete in the EcoMadness initiative, an annual, month-long competition between students living in residence halls to improve their water and energy usage as well as recycling habits. The aim of EcoMadness is to help students “adopt long-term sustainable behaviors” and “be inspired to get more involved in sustainability” in and around the UConn community, according to reporting by The Daily Campus.
Meanwhile, UConn’s Central Utility Plant, on which the university relies for its energy needs, is generating well over 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. With no plan in sight to phase out the CUP’s fracked gas-burning cogeneration facility to reach UConn’s vaguely-stated climate goals, the university apparently has no choice but to individualize sustainability, confining it to the actions of students for one month out of the year. This is entirely insufficient to address the mounting threats of global catastrophe posed by climate change and the economic and political systems fueling it.
President Radenka Maric’s latest e-mail communication to the UConn community recognized climate change as an “existential threat” and expressed a full commitment to “being a national leader in education, research innovation, and technology deployment to combat it.” The progress towards this since the international outcry to end global dependency on fossil fuels, however, remains to be seen. What is an abstract possibility for American students on an insulated college campus is already a devastating reality for frontline communities across the world whose environments are already being shaped by climate catastrophe. As our institutions struggle to create implementation plans for renewable infrastructure, flooding in Pakistan and Venezuela, severe heatwaves in China and other unprecedented phenomena are leaving the marks of the climate crisis on communities — most of which are nations which UConn students and faculty members call home. This poses the following critical question: Where is the urgency from the administration on climate change?
The Daily Campus Editorial Board calls for an end to greenwashing measures that not only sidetrack UConn from its goal of eliminating carbon emissions, but to also obscure our deep investments into fossil fuel industry and ties to the heavily harmful and polluting military-industrial complex. By “greenwashing,” we are referring to a problematic pattern often adopted by institutions to conceal violent or ecocidal behavior with advertising and expansive sustainability initiatives. The function of this is to create a facade of sustainability where sustainability does not authentically exist. This is a tried and true strategy of massive polluters and war profiteers such as Raytheon; the state of Israel, whose tree-planting and renewable developments take place on occupied Palestinian lands; and the United States military, the world’s most expensive and prolific polluting organization, whether it be through emissions or shrapnel. Regardless of scale, UConn is no exception to this.
Like EcoMadness — an idea with the fair intent of mobilizing a community to take sustainability into its own hands — UConn’s “green” initiatives and awards by environmental organizations are poor substitutes for the clear solution of eliminating CO2 emissions and supplementing it with new and existing renewable energy sources, as we have previously discussed at length. Furthermore, meaningful decarbonization requires divestment not only from the fossil fuel industry, but from the U.S. military and war profiteers as well. We continue to reject the idea that sustainability can be achieved at an institution whose research and human capital are invested into industries such as weapons manufacturing that destroy nature and life instead of sustaining it.
While we recognize the importance of pushing for truly fossil fuel-free institutions to combat the climate crisis, it is more important to recognize that UConn is not and cannot be the end-all-be-all of climate activism and organizing. The unfortunate reality is that institutions such as government agencies, corporations, universities and — yes — even environmental organizations are integrated into a global network of fossil fuel dependence. Even a fully decarbonized UConn would draw from a fossil fuel-based energy grid; use innumerable products produced with petroleum and powered by oil and gas; and be bankrolled by CO2-emitting private and government entities.
It is not enough to exist in a pool of sustainability within a sea of ecological violence, or climate activists risk leaving UConn satisfied with a fraction of what is actually needed to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. To remedy this — to win long-term and widespread environmental justice — activists must adopt a political vision of environmental justice too. This places UConn within the broader societal organism — including the military, extractive corporations, co-opted governments, activist organizations and other educational institutions — that needs to be replaced in its entirety for a future of healing and justice. To conclude, we urge community members not to limit their capacities to the microscopic campus environmentalism of today, but to the sustainable world of tomorrow.