Faculty shouldn’t just endorse climate action — they need to get involved

University of Maryland students descended on Washington, D.C., on Friday March 15, 2019 to participate in the worldwide climate strike. Students from countries across the world walked out of school to demand lawmakers take action against climate change. (Shreeya Agarwal/For The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

More than four million people worldwide skipped class and work on Sept. 20 for the Global Climate Strike. It’s probable it was the largest climate protest in world history. Leading up to it, student organizers from the University of Maryland encouraged their professors to excuse strikers from class, or cancel classes all together in support of the strike. As someone who’s anxious about the future — and confident that we need rapid action on climate change — I dutifully asked my professors just that.

A few of my professors were supportive of the strike, attending it or even assigning strike attendance for credit. But I found myself frustrated with those who voiced support for climate action and strikes but were not even willing to do the bare minimum to demand change on the campus. One of my professors, who at the start of every class passionately announces historical events — including strikes — from Howard Zinn’s leftist project This Day in History, ironically refused to excuse students. 

After a long discussion with my professor and their TAs, who maintained that students should be penalized for attending the strike instead of class, I left exasperated. They believed the value of a strike would be lost if students were not penalized for participating. Plus, “It’s not allowed!” Their role, they claimed, was simply to be “supportive” of the students who did participate in the Global Climate Strike, not to do anything about it themselves.

I want to encourage this university’s faculty  — and adults in general — to divorce themselves from the idea that climate change is solely an issue for young people. Climate change will affect everyone, and we are already seeing its effects today, with record-high temperatures, hurricanes and forest fires. It is distinct from issues such as health care and taxes in that its effects threaten our collective existence. It touches just about any issue you can think of, including global poverty, immigration, human rights, racial justice, economic inequality and public health. 

That’s why almost 20 student organizations working on a variety of different issues have signed onto a student organization endorsement form for the Dec. 6 National Climate Strike. If we do not act within the 11-year timeline set out by the world’s scientists, we will all face the threat of systemwide collapse. Eleven years is well within our lifetimes — for many of us, it’s not long after graduation. 

It’s clear that some faculty at this university, and adults in general, view climate activism as something which should be reserved for students and young people. But the faculty should start to look at themselves as humans living in a rapidly crumbling ecosystem rather than simply loyal employees of the University System of Maryland, which used nearly 62 percent of the natural gas in the state of Maryland in fiscal year 2019. 

When we ask our professors to cancel classes or excuse us, we aren’t just asking so that we won’t be penalized for protesting. We are encouraging them to realize their place as a person who will be negatively affected by planetary destruction, just like the rest of us. We will all reap the benefits of preventing a climate crisis, so not taking a stance is equivalent to free riding on the work students are doing. Our demands for a livable future will have far more power if students, faculty and staff all participate.

AFSCME Local 1072, the union for university employees, seems to understand this. It endorsed the climate strikes and faculty and staff members signed onto a letter calling for the administration to adhere to students’ demands: ending investments and direct use of fossil fuels and a sustainability general education requirement. The union pointed out that cleaning up the mess of climate change will be much more expensive than preventing it. Shortages in public budgets will leave institutions like the University of Maryland underfunded, leading to deteriorated conditions for everyone on this campus, including workers. 

Because change requires persistence, climate strikes will continue to occur on this campus and around the world. The next climate strike is this coming Friday, Dec. 6 and students are again asking their professors to cancel their classes or excuse students who choose to participate. Everyone on campus should consider how they can add their voice to the climate movement, instead of viewing it as simply an issue of students against the administration. We all live on this planet together, so let’s fight for it together.

Emily Fox is a sophomore history and politics, philosophy and economics major. She can be reached at emilywfox@gmail.com.

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