“The ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where he [or she] stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he [or she] stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, climate change poses a challenge unlike any challenge we've faced before. How we respond will define who we are as people. We, as members of our respective communities, regardless of our likenesses and differences, must rise together. We must rise together as brothers and sisters of one earth, of one expansive community, in solidarity. And as we rise, we must make sure to wake our leaders from their current slumber.
Yes, it’s time to admit the sad truth: our leadership has failed us. You wouldn’t think so if you watched President Obama’s inauguration speech and State of the Union address. His words were strong and spoken with conviction. “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” he said. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. “Finally,” we said. This was the man we elected for a second term. Remember hope? It had finally returned. However, we must make a distinction between rhetoric and action. Hope creates an atmosphere in which change is possible, but what really brings change? Change is brought by bold, courageous leadership—the leadership that sends men and women into the history books, that erects monuments, that establishes a brighter future for all walks of life. Obama will now be defined by his words or by his actions. If he doesn't put a stop to the Keystone XL pipeline and doesn't move us forward on climate, he will cement his place in history as a man who had opportunity but lacked courage. I know I won't be the only one disappointed, angry, and betrayed.
Right now, I'm calling on the President and all leaders across the globe to remind us why they are leaders—to demonstrate the bold, courageous leadership we deserve in order to bring change we deserve.
Another leader in particular I'm calling on is Mary Ellen Mazey, President of Bowling Green State University. In 2012, Mazey signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which claims that its mission is to “accelerate progress towards climate neutrality and sustainability by empowering the higher education sector to educate students, create solutions, and provide leadership-by-example for the rest of society.” By signing the Commitment, Mazey made a promise to the students of BGSU to “address climate disruption” and to make much needed changes at the university that help “re-stabilize the earth’s climate.” In the eyes of many, she has failed to keep the promise that our university considers clean energy a priority and has failed to display effective leadership. Environmental Action Group continues to urge Mazey to step into the future and transition BGSU to 100% renewable energy. Making an honest, real commitment to help end environmental degradation on this large of a scale would provide an enormous amount of benefits for the university while setting a standard that other universities would be foolish not to follow.
The change we deserve won’t just come from Washington. In fact, if we’ve learned anything from our history, we’ll know it must first come from elsewhere—from our communities that can no longer withstand the abuse of climate change and can no longer afford to be forgotten and left behind. As students, we are vital members of society. We allow our universities to function. We breathe life into our communities. Now more than ever, it’s our duty as citizens to make sure our power is recognized. In order to secure the future—our future—we must use our frustrations constructively to pressure leaders into action. We no longer have time to follow our leaders—we must now lead them ourselves.