When I was a sophomore undergrad, I studied abroad. I was in the United Kingdom (England) for the entire year. It was amazing for so many reasons, one of which was the opportunity to travel to areas I otherwise would never visit. For Spring Break, three friends and I went to Southern Africa. We spent a few nights along the banks of the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls. While there, we became quick friends with one of the young men working at the campsite. He would be setting the tables and opening the restaurant, while we sat in the open air along the river drinking coffee and nursing our hangovers.
One morning, we talked about our dreams. His dream struck me as nothing else had and it propelled me toward what I would do with my life. His dream was to come to America and become a singer. It wasn’t the dream itself that struck me – it was the fact that by pure chance I had already achieved half of his dream. Now of course, I realize my “achievement” was better referred to unearned privilege. I still get teary when I think about this – not because of sadness, but because of the overwhelming gratitude and the deep sense of responsibility that comes with this memory. I knew I had to do something that matters. I chose the environment. It was the one thing I could do that could help everyone, no matter their race, class, power, species, etc.
The other privilege of course, is earned privilege. Having a college degree, is an earned privilege. They both require responsibility.
Earlier this month, the United Nations released their Climate Report. It stated we (yes, you too) have 12 years to avert catastrophic climate change. Indeed, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change. An acceleration of these events will continue if nothing is done. This should instill in all of us, especially those with the privileges of literacy and education, a sense of deep responsibility. Compliance based on the belief that climate change isn’t real is ignorant. Compliance based on the belief we can’t make a difference is irresponsible and weak. As individuals, as an institution of higher education and as part of the ecosystem, we must take action. It is, in fact, our responsibility and our privilege.