Look up. Go outside tonight and look at the stars. Until this past weekend I can’t remember the last time I saw a night sky that wasn’t polluted by light. I’m quickly discovering that college life is crazy, it’s busy, and it involves a whole lot of running around. But I’m also learning how important it is to step back and remember that part of being eco conscious is letting my love of nature be a driving force for my personal activism. So this past weekend I went to Ludlow, Vermont to talk about fossil fuel divestment with students from UMASS, University of Vermont, Mt. Holyoke College, and Boston University. It seems appropriate to have these conversations while spending the weekend camping on a beautiful lake, far away from any major cities.
First of all, in case you’re unfamiliar, the divestment movement is nationwide and spans from religious institutions, to banks, and largely to universities. The goal is for these institutions to take their investments out of the fossil fuel industry and ultimately start investing in a more sustainable future. I’m involved with the UMASS Amherst Divestment group because I strongly believe in the power of student voice to change the future and I believe that because my education is such an enormous personal investment, the school’s investments should align with the values of those they are educating. Anyways, I decided to attend this Northeast Colleges Divest Retreat because I wanted to meet other students with similar passions and learn how I could further my involvement. I ended up doing just that, as well as reconnecting myself with the natural world.
When everyone arrived at the campground in Vermont we gathered in a circle on the grass and did your average ice breakers and getting to know one another activities. I always think it’s funny how quickly people from various environmental groups clique with one another, it usually only takes a few minutes before everyone is best friends. Each of the different schools then gave a synopsis of their campaigns, including successes, failures, and new initiatives. It was really cool to hear how different all of the campaigns were and the different ways that students were working with university administrators depending on their schools’ demographics. For example, the University of Vermont has some pretty strong forward motion in the world of divesting from fossil fuels, whereas BU is in a more stagnant position. This was a weekend that truly spoke to the nature of a grass roots movement. We were students teaching other students, learning from one another, and helping each other decide on the next steps. The discussion played out all day and pretty continuously through the night.
So here’s the thing, I hadn’t gone camping since I was probably ten years old. It didn’t even occur to me that when the sun went down around 7pm that it was going to get really dark. We become so accustomed to artificial light (especially in a college atmosphere) that people are more likely to be going to bed when the sun is coming up, rather than when it’s going down. We were sitting around discussing the implications of climate change, our universities investments in non-renewable resources, and all the sudden I’m realizing that I’ve become so out of touch with what a day on earth actually looks like. By that I mean, I don’t pay much attention to the rising sun or nightfall. I’m so focused on my schedule and finishing everything I have to get done, that I forget that this cycle is happening all around me. Suddenly this wasn’t just a camping trip to think about divestment from fossil fuels, but a night to divest myself from the world of artificial light, noise, and chaos. I’m sure I’m not the only young activist that gets caught up in trying to get a million things done every day. We spend so much time and energy thinking about these global problems, but I think we often times need to remind ourselves why we do it. After hours of talking about fossil fuels, it was time for me to think about the counterpart.
There wasn’t one cloud in the sky that night and the crisp autumn air was pretty much perfect. For the first time in years, I looked up and saw more stars than I think I’ve ever seen before. Asking our universities to divest from fossil fuels is a big task and an exciting one too. But learning to invest time in moments like these is equally as important. I realized how crucial it is to remember the bigger picture, to remember how big the world really is, and how many stars are in the sky. I went to the woods for the weekend to talk about activism, but I think I actually learned a little more about what activism truly means to me. But really, I urge you all to take a walk in the woods, go star gaze, and appreciate some beautiful foliage and take the time to pat yourself on the back for all the amazing work you surely do.