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COMMENTARY: Students are obligated to support environmental justice

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The year is 2020. 

As college students, we are on the brink of significant changes and moments in our lives. Many of us are navigating personal and societal challenges while also trying to embrace our moment and find communities we can belong to. Everything is happening at once. The good, the bad, the burnout and stress. 

Yet, as we contemplate how to navigate the rest of our lives, the threats to our very chance at a livable future are becoming more and more disturbing. We cannot even securely imagine our futures without having to imagine the extended horrors of the climate crisis that are already rapidly manifesting. If the purpose of college is to prepare for our future, then maybe working to maintain that future should be a more integral part of what we do here.  

Today, from 6 to 9 p.m., the first ever Rutgers Sustainability Town Hall will be held at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus. It will be a space for students, faculty and administration to share knowledge through direct communication and provide a much-needed University-wide update on the state of sustainability. All students, faculty and Rutgers community members are invited to join us in a moment that will surely be a landmark in Rutgers history. 

It will be a gathering that has the purpose of creating meaningful and urgent action brought forth by a collective of voices. It will also be a space for us to fully acknowledge the climate crisis and what preparing for the future now entails. 

The Rutgers community through students and faculty has been building energy and solidarity around climate issues in the past few years. A coalition of campus organizations, such as the Central Jersey Climate Coalition and Students for Environmental Awareness, organized the first ever Central Jersey Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 with a turnout of more than 800 people. The Rutgers Compost club has been consistently organizing compost collection on campus because Rutgers has yet to centralize composting. 

Faculty have participated in research that supports climate science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that state that we need to cut carbon emissions by 45% globally by 2030 and be net-zero by 2050. The Rutgers University Sustainability Coalition has been advocating for collaborative conversations that invoke Rutgers to work with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and make key changes such as creating an Office of Sustainability. 

The Endowment Justice Collective is a group of Rutgers students who have been fighting for ethical divestment from fossil fuels, apartheid, the war machine and the prison industrial complex. 

These are just a few examples of climate action on campus where individuals or organizations put so much of their own time and work into making environmental justice a visible issue on campus.

Better yet, we as a Rutgers community are beginning to build unity among a variety of organizations on campus with the understanding that standing in alliance and empowering each other’s voices can only make us more resilient. Rutgers One is an organization of students, faculty, alumni and community members fighting for justice and creating a strong network that supports and is vigilant to various issues on campus. 

Why is the Rutgers community so ready to take on these initiatives? Why is it important to localize our efforts? Why does it matter if Rutgers as an institution is cultivating sustainability and social justice through administrative decisions?

In the year 2020, there is no time to wait for change to occur from the top. People, power and mobilization are necessary and effective in awakening important re-evaluations of our collective climate impact. We as students believe that Rutgers can do better and demand that we are a part of the important conversations regarding what Rutgers stands for. 

Our determination is based in real grief and fear for the lives being lost around the world to environmental disasters and the reality that time is not on our side. Fossil fuel extractivism is despicably uprooting marginalized communities and denying them access to clean water and air. The imperialism of corporate interest is actively being enabled to choose profit over people, and we must take a stand against this. 

We are also resilient in our cause because we know there are effective and real solutions that can empower a brighter and less frightening future. Just as students, we have been able to create our own avenues of change. Imagine if the administration really worked together with the community to implement a slew of much needed changes and invest in not only the sustainability and efficiency of our institution’s daily activities, but also the future of this planet. 

Other universities have stepped up to the plate and implemented interdisciplinary and effective initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, reduce single use plastics, create systems of reuse and evaluate new avenues for sustainability.

Our environmentalism must be aligned with social justice, social good and understanding of each other as not only living things with basic human functions, but also people who desire happiness, compassion and a space to belong. Environmental action is the same thing as community building, and it creates a quality of life that can be cultivated through stories, human connection and cultural exchange. 

Our future starts right here at Rutgers, and the conversation must begin with acknowledging our capabilities and impacts. 

Anjali Madgula is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in english and minoring in environmental policy and creative writing.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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