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More Important Deadlines

By Alli J. Welton

On March 31, I will be walking out of class alongside hundreds of other students from across Massachusetts. We will be going to the office of Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 and calling on him to ban the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

As California author Rebecca Solnit wrote a few weeks ago, “Sometimes the right thing to do in ordinary times is exactly the wrong thing to do in extraordinary times.” Solnit was referring to the foot-dragging and inaction of San Francisco bureaucrats charged with investigating fossil fuel divestment for the city’s pension funds—but her point is relevant to our entire generation. In the age of urgent climate crisis and with a government largely overwhelmed by the influence of fossil fuel companies, nothing short of extraordinary action has a hope of making the change our generation desperately needs.

The International Energy Agency projects that by 2017—just three years away—we will have built so much fossil fuel infrastructure that we will be locked in to irreversible and extremely dangerous levels of warming. Without action, our generation could face a future in which entire cities and countries disappear under rising seas, our sources of water and food become unpredictable, and millions need to migrate and seek refuge.

No matter what happens, our generation will likely inherit a world terribly warped by climate change—but we probably have not yet crossed the line between climate disaster and climate catastrophe. If we act boldly now, we still have a chance to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.

On March 31, the Youth Walkout for Climate Justice will push for the governor to redirect future energy investments into clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation. This would be an unprecedented step—but one exactly in line with the IEA’s projections and one commensurate with the scale of the climate crisis. It would finally set the Commonwealth on course to responsibly transition to a full, clean electricity system. If other states and nations followed suit, it could be a step that turns the tide on fossil fuels.

Statewide organizers at Students for a Just and Stable Future, the Massachusetts campus network organizing the walkout, have heard that the governor’s office is seriously considering this ban. We have real leverage here because Governor Patrick, whom many speculate will run for president someday, knows that he needs our generation solidly behind him. As increasingly powerful hurricanes and wildfires take their toll, the issue of climate change will only grow in importance during our elections.

By responding to our call on March 31, Governor Patrick has the chance to define himself as a climate visionary and staunch advocate for the future of hope in this country. It is the kind of step that could help Governor Patrick win the presidency—in other words, our walkout might be powerful enough to convince him to make this unprecedented, game-changing move.

How extraordinary of a moment does it need to be to prompt you to walk out of class?

The injustices of racism led Harvard’s future president, Drew G. Faust, during her time as an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr, to ditch her midterms and travel south to march with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. With the lives of millions at stake, many of whom did little or nothing to cause the problem, are the injustices of the climate crisis horrible enough to prompt you to walk out next Monday?

Choosing to break the rules and walk out of class isn’t easy. It’s hard to detach yourself from the daily routine of homework and classes. It’s hard to step out of the culture at Harvard that drives us to relentlessly pursue personal achievements. It’s hardest of all to recognize that we must break rules in order to survive, especially when following rules has worked out so well for the lives of most Harvard students.

And yet, following the rules and conventions that let the machinery of climate disaster rumble forward will only lead us, like mindless lemmings, over the climate cliff. If our generation wants to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must do something extraordinary to disrupt this dangerous status quo.

To repeat Rebecca Solnit’s wise words: “Sometimes the right thing to do in ordinary times is exactly the wrong thing to do in extraordinary times.”

At the end of the day, essay due dates are not the most important deadlines that we face. Will you walk out of class on March 31 to join us in fighting for climate justice before this precious moment escapes?

Alli J. Welton ’15, a history and science concentrator in Dudley House, is a member of Students for a Just and Stable Future.

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