Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 8, 2020

Hopkins students celebrate a virtual Earth Day

By GRETA MARAS | April 28, 2020

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM Amid COVID-19, students found creative ways to promote sustainability.

Several student groups at Hopkins commemorated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22. As a result of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, students had to find unique ways to celebrate. 

On April 17, the Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC) held its first Annual Symposium. The symposium hosted several faculty, student and alumni speakers for a comprehensive conversation about the University’s current state of sustainability. Senior Colin Bowen, co-president of Refuel Our Future, presented his TED-style talk titled “Why we need fossil fuel divestment to beat climate change.” 

Bowen spoke about the importance of divestment as an action in addressing the climate crisis.

“Divestment is an acknowledgment that we built a society that is tremendously dependent on fossil fuels,” he said. “Divestment is the first step in admitting that climate change is a crisis, and admitting that will allow us to make fundamental changes to our way of life and alter the way we think about energy.”

Bowen also described why a decision from Hopkins to divest from fossil fuels would be so critical in inspiring divestment from other institutions.

“We have the ability to build an academic identity around sustainable investment and empower other institutions to make investment decisions that force our fossil fuel corporations to assume responsibility for the climate crisis and do their part in fixing it,” he said.

Wings, a student group that focuses on menstrual health and education, hosted a webinar on Earth Day to provide information about sustainable menstrual health alternatives to single-use tampons and pads. 

Sophomore and Wings’ Sustainability Director Mariama Morray presented on the benefits of switching to reusable alternatives, considering 200,000 tons of waste are generated by menstrual products each year. 

Morray also explained the value in reusable menstrual products that goes beyond their lessened environmental impact. 

“We need a cultural shift that encourages becoming comfortable with our own bodies and how we teach menstruation. Reusable products get you so much more comfortable with your body,” Morray said. 

On Earth Day and following days, Sunrise Hopkins, a branch of the national Sunrise Movement, aligned with the Earth Day 2020 three-part digital action campaign to strike, divest and vote. 

The Wednesday strike portion called upon students to use custom Zoom backgrounds that call for action against climate change and to post videos of themselves describing the individual and systemic changes they wish to see. 

During the Thursday divest event, Sunrise Hopkins and Refuel Our Future posted materials on their social media accounts to give students guidelines for how to contact Hopkins administration and demand for divestment from fossil fuels. The actions involved call-storming and email-storming the board members, Provost Sunil Kumar and President Ronald J. Daniels to express the reasons for divesting. 

The College Climate Coalition (CCC), an intercollegiate network of climate organizations at various higher education institutions, published a video titled “Higher Education: Complicit or Leaders in Climate?” The video details the origins of the collegiate divestment movement, which has been inspired by divestment movements of students in South Africa in the 1990s during apartheid. 

The video also outlines the greater purpose of asking universities to divest from fossil fuels. The CCC explained that universities are large shareholders, landowners and employers, which puts them in a position of power and gives ample opportunity for corruption. 

“Our movement is a part of the larger collaborative effort to ensure that every person can live knowing that their safety, health and financial wellbeing will never be compromised by greed,” the video explained. “We choose fossil fuel divestment because as students, our leverage is limited, but being part of the university system gives us a unique opportunity to demand change from within.”

The CCC also explored the ways in which universities are handling the COVID-19 crisis and their dissatisfaction with some of those responses regarding housing and tuition refunds, equitable grading and compensation for university workers.

Additionally, Sunrise Movement Baltimore launched its endorsement for Brandon Scott in the Baltimore mayoral race this past Earth Day. They also shared a live stream featuring local artists to shed light on the climate crisis through visual storytelling and music. 

Freshman and member of Sunrise Hopkins Haadiya Ahmed shared her thoughts on the way the pandemic has affected Earth Day and the subsequent digital action in an email to The News-Letter

“It’s important to fight for our planet every day, but this Earth Day has been even more important as we continue to live through a climate crisis. This Earth Day, I’ve been able to strike for climate justice in a non-traditional way,” Ahmed wrote. “It’s incredible to see that, while the pandemic has transformed our lives, it has motivated us to take action now more than ever.”

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