Keeping the Focus

By Matt Kazinka

Last Thursday was Focus the Nation, the largest teach-in in American history. But the next day, Feb. 1, was equally big. On that Friday, my friends and I biked, said “good morning” to passers-by, stood statements on the plaza, and talked competition with our classmates. We were Energy Leaders, caped crusaders, out to spread the message that the National Campus Energy Challenge (NCEC) had begun, and Macalester is ready to compete.Here’s the story: Last year, Macalester competed with 15 other colleges in the state in Campus Wars, a competition to reduce heat and electricity use by being more efficient and less wasteful. Macalester won the combined total reduction score. (Petty rumor insists that our “torn down athletic facility” aided in the win, but there is little evidence that such a facility ever, in fact, existed.)

The developers of the challenge, who are mostly students at Macalester, Carleton, and St. Olaf, decided that such a competition could only benefit from a national scope, and the NCEC was born. It now includes more than 90 other schools, including my high school in Iowa City and a few colleges in Canada. It seems the stakes have risen, and we have a reputation to defend.

But do we benefit more from winning the NCEC or from the process itself? Through the competition mind frame, student climate activists all over the country are spurring on real change, and beginning to collaborate on their methods more than ever before. It’s a first step toward a campus culture in which we see fossil fuel use for what it is, a destructive global injustice, and consequentially move to clean energy and efficiency.

My experience is that most people here and elsewhere would agree that we must stop climate change, but there’s a gap between what actions we think are worth doing and what we actually do. Where does that come from? Do we lack resources? Do we believe that we are not contributing to the problem, or simply that others must fix it? Is it too hard, or do we just lack belief in our abilities?

I’m part of a group of people who have been struggling with this question for the last few months. We are MELT, the Macalester Energy Leadership Team. We’re your friends, your neighbors, your professors, and your co-workers, and we’re determined to disprove the myth that we, as people, have little ability to affect climate change.

Global and national policy solutions toward climate change have not taken shape yet, and we as a people need to understand that a perfect, top-down solution won’t appear soon. Is that troublesome? Not once we realize that we can build a solution ourselves. It begins with understanding how our individual actions can be positive, but continues toward seeing the power we have when we work together. There are ways to get off oil and coal, but advocacy will not be sufficient this time. The real solutions are happening here and are open to participation.

I won’t list off what you can do to reduce your energy use in this limited space; that information is widely available online or through other students. Our own energy resources for the Macalester community are currently intangible: our web site and Energy Pledge are working through technical difficulties. But ask me or any member of MELT or MacCARES how we can do this together, and we will gladly work with you. It’s simple, it’s possible and we can do it.

Matt Kazinka ’11 can be contacted at [email protected]