Sustainability Column: Community Base for Action

Over Fall Break, members of the Colgate faculty, staff and student body attended the Seeds of Change conference at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. During my two days at Omega, I had the privilege of listening to a variety of distinguished speakers: Ralph Nader, Dr. Vandana Shiva and Winona LaDuke, to name a few. As someone who only recently became passionate about sustainability and social justice, these speakers expanded my knowledge in these fields as well as my appreciation for the scope of the problems and solutions.  

The first keynote speaker for the conference was Dr. Vandana Shiva, an activist, writer and public figure from India. Her discussion centered around the negatives of capitalism, specifically Monsanto, the large seed producing company. Dr. Shiva spoke about the importance of seed diversity for the health of people and the environment and role industrial agriculture plays in destroying this diversity. My favorite part of her discussion was the idea that we will overcome issues not with despair, but with solidarity, creativity and courage. This optimistic outlook was one of my biggest takeaways from the conference because I think it is easy to get disheartened when you look at the institutional scale of the problems that face our environment; finger-pointing and negativity are not good motivators for change. 

Ralph Nader started off his keynote by saying, “The single biggest problem facing our country today is the lack of civic motivation. We don’t show up.” Like me, Nader believes there are a lot of reasonable, compassionate people in this country.  The wealth disparity, climate change, racism–all these things exist not because a majority of people in this country are selfish and evil, but because not enough people make their voices heard. I think this is true at Colgate; a lot of students here are educated and care about something, but we don’t know how to change things, or we don’t think our lifestyle changes will make any difference, so we don’t do anything.  

Nader quoted a phrase from the 14th century Ming Dynasty: “To know and not to do is not to know.” I think Nader is right. We know the negative impact our consumerism and excess has, and we want to be good people and do the right thing, but we just can’t motivate ourselves to take action.  

It is hard to stand for change alone. My favorite part of the conference was the community.  For two days I was surrounded by all kinds of people. We were all people under a common passion to be the change, to save the world.  Surrounded by so many impassioned people it was impossible to not feed off that energy.  I felt like I could take on the world with this community at my back. 

I would love to see a community like that be more prominent here at Colgate, because there are a lot of people here who care. Maybe if we knew that there was a community of people around us who also cared, we would feel more empowered to do something. Plus, if we spent a little more time coming together around world issues, we might all get along a little better.