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The Dartmouth
June 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Climate policies evolve through the years

This year marked the 54th annual Earth Day on campus, demonstrating a decades long pursuit, fueled by student organizations, to combat environmental degradation.

Courtsey of Kelsey Wang 

This article is featured in the 2024 Green Key special issue.

On April 22 — the 54th annual Earth Day — College President Sian Leah Beilock announced the Dartmouth Climate Collaborative, a sustainability initiative that plans to cut Dartmouth’s carbon emissions by 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2050, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. 

In her Earth Day email to campus, Beilock also highlighted the Climate Futures Initiative, a year-long program led by the Office of the Provost that aims to address climate change. 

The Climate Futures Initiative seeks to “help Dartmouth think about its academic approach to climate at large,” according to Provost David Kotz. 

“The decarbonization effort … provides really exciting academic opportunities for students to learn about how Dartmouth is decarbonizing and all the technologies that go into that,” Kotz said.

Past Climate Activism at Dartmouth

While the College has recently added to its environmental initiatives, climate activism on campus has existed for decades. The Dartmouth Outing Club’s Environmental Studies Division provides one of the earliest records of climate activism, spreading awareness since 1970 about how small acts could prevent further environmental damage. On April 22, 1970, students and faculty held informational workshops at an Earth Fair on topics such as population problems and control, environmental ethics, household ecology, waterway pollution and industrial and economic development. 

That same day, ESD planned the first-ever on-campus Earth Day, open to students and the public, which featured a variety of environmental-related programming. Dartmouth professors, including professor William S. Magee, who taught Chemistry 1, delivered lectures on environmental crises. Meanwhile, environmental attorney John Brownell and New England River Basins Commission chairman R. Frank Gregg visited campus to deliver keynote addresses. 

Local radio stations, from WDCR to WISL of Hanover and WNHV of White River Junction also spread the “Earth Day message” to the town of Hanover, according to ESD records.

In a 1970 announcement to campus about Earth Day, former ESD chairman William Schlesinger ’72 said, “Our major aim in staging Earth Day is to show that the problems that the President, the Congress and the nation are talking about are indeed serious enough that someone has to start doing something about them,” according to ESD records.

The following year, the ESD expanded its climate initiatives, hosting an inaugural Environmental Awareness Day, first held on May 1, 1971. ESD organized clean-ups throughout the community and sponsored a photography contest capturing “environmental pollution and unspoiled scenery in [the] Hanover area,” according to ESD records. On the same day, ESD also arranged for Sun Electronics Corporation, an electronics manufacturer in the automotive industry, to send technicians to test more than 400 Hanover locals' cars for their hydrocarbon and carbon dioxide output and make adjustments at no cost.

In addition to Earth Day and Environmental Awareness Day, ESD also implemented regular programming throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The group hosted weekly meetings about campus issues related to environmental damage, according to an article published in The Dartmouth in February 1989. 

The organization also created a recycling education program in 1986 that made recycling bins accessible throughout campus, and spearheaded the banning of styrofoam bowls from Collis three years later, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. 

In October 1990, an article in Common Sense — a publication founded in 1986 to discuss controversial campus issues — reviewed opinions about whether the College should eliminate the yearly Homecoming Bonfire. Some students at the College expressed concern that the bonfire used excessive amounts of lumber each year. Although the College switched to a more sustainable type of wood in 1988, from railroad ties to a safer, less polluting green wood from nearby lumber yards, the fire still required 26 tons each year — enough to heat 300 homes, according to the article. 

As a result, Common Sense established the “Common-Sense Solution,” in which Vijay Shankaran and Sterling Perrin suggested that the Dartmouth community plant as many trees as they used to make each Bonfire. The idea, however, was never executed. 

Climate Activism at Dartmouth Today: 

Student organizations continue to maintain a commitment to sustainability. Isaiah Menning ’24, who serves as president of the Dartmouth chapter of the American Conservation Coalition, said his group of students are passionate about “bringing conservatives on board with policy that is good for the planet and good for people.” The ACC was founded in 2017 and is a national non-profit, according to Menning. 

“We’re interested in lots of policies that are rooted in market principles but that can also be bipartisan,” Menning said. “That way these policies can get lots of support from everyone that is pro-America, pro-market and pro-growth.” 

Menning added the ACC brings speakers to campus, hosts events and partners with other student organizations. The group hopes to bring about climate solutions that align with conservative principles such as economic freedom and minimal government intervention, he explained.  

“Our sustainability solutions embrace choice and embrace local communities,” Menning said. “They also embrace economic growth. … If we speak the language, we can agree on the issue. Climate change is real — it’s science.”

Fossil Free Dartmouth, another student climate organization which plans protests, community building, tabling and teach-ins, also urges “Dartmouth College to take a stance against fossil fuels,” according to the organization’s website. 

Member Reva Gandhi ’27 said she identified with Fossil Free Dartmouth’s mission when she arrived on campus last year.

“Fossil Free Dartmouth is tackling how academia is influenced by fossil fuel companies and how a lot of fossil fuel companies invest a lot of money in research at universities like Dartmouth,” Gandhi said.

On Oct. 8, 2021, Dartmouth announced plans to cease further investing its endowment directly in fossil fuels. According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, the College began divesting after bylaws were created in 2017 and 2020 that placed restrictions on Dartmouth’s investments in private fossil fuel extraction and fossil fuel companies.  

On Oct. 24, Fossil Free Dartmouth released a report titled “Investigating Irving: A Fossil Free Dartmouth Report,” which investigated the institute’s financial ties to the Irving Oil Company, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. The report outlined the various ways that Dartmouth remains connected to the fossil fuel industry.

Students have also recently advocated for environmental policy change in the form of campus protests. In October 2024, Fossil Free Dartmouth held a climate rally protesting Dartmouth’s environmental policy in coordination with other student organizations, including Eating for the Earth, Dartmouth Energy Alliance, Spare Rib and Sunrise Dartmouth, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. Gandhi, who attended the rally, said she thought it was “important” to participate in the event. 

“We marched to Irving, came back to the Green, and listened to multiple speakers,” Gandhi said. “We had a member of the Abenaki nation there who talked about the relationship between humans and the Earth and how we should preserve that relationship.”

Gandhi said she felt strongly about the importance of student climate activism on campus — both now and in the future. 

“We can’t wait until we’re 35 and in positions of power to make change, or it will be too late,” Gandhi said. “I think student activism … demonstrates that this is something we really care about. Even though I individually don’t have a ton of power at Dartmouth, we as 500 students at Dartmouth have a lot of power.”

Kotz also mentioned the role of student activism on Dartmouth’s campus. 

“I think it’s important for students to be active in support of causes that are important to them, whether it be highly local causes, or national and international causes of all kinds,” he said.  “My goal is to make sure everyone has the opportunity to express those views and have meaningful dialogue about those views.”

Isaiah Menning is an opinion writer for The Dartmouth. Members of the opinion staff are not involved in news production.