Emma Tayloe ’19

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a troubling report this month explaining that the effects of 2°C of warming would be far worse than previously anticipated and that the world would have to achieve a drastic and rapid reduction in carbon emission to avoid climate catastrophe that could come as soon as 2040.

Addressing climate change is a matter of life and death for literally millions of people, the vast majority of whom contribute almost zero carbon emissions. Climate change is not happening because individuals and institutions are making bad or selfish choices but rather because our economic system allows corporations to amass exorbitant wealth. Our political system allows them to use that wealth to protect their profits by fighting against workers’ rights, defending a criminal justice system that exploits inmate labor and lobbying against environmental regulation. Climate change can only be seriously addressed through radical economic and political reform, yet the dominant narrative around it emphasizes individuals’ roles in saving water and recycling.

Davidson pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and advertises the college farm, the compost program and Wall’s energy efficient features on tours and online. I strongly support the college’s efforts to reduce its impact and provide opportunities for students to engage with sustainability. However, the College has punted on speaking to the real political problem of climate change. Without contextualizing these institutional level reductions, Davidson propagates the false narrative that climate can be solved through responsible consumption.  

If Davidson is serious about preventing catastrophic climate change, we should leverage our social and economic capital to affect political reform. One of the first steps Davidson could take to this would be to acknowledge our relationship with Duke Energy. Duke Energy provides power to the College.

Duke Energy contributes to climate change not only through profiting from burning fossil fuels but also through their lobbying to prevent serious climate action. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Duke’s political action committee has given $10 million to political campaigns in the last decade. Duke refuses to comment on whether or not it belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) despite calls for it to leave the organization (1), but was found to have sponsored a 2015 ALEC meeting (2). ALEC is a private organization made up of corporate executives and conservative state-level representatives that seeks to coordinate the “exchange” of pro-business legislation. ALEC invites outright climate change deniers to speak at meetings and drafts bills that promote climate change denial, weaken environmental regulation and defund sustainable energy programs.

We can celebrate sustainable campus initiatives and Davidson’s efforts to reduce its impact, but we must properly situate these efforts into a broader economic system. This includes acknowledging how Davidson interacts with corporations like Duke Energy. To solve climate change, we must better address the political nature of the problem and work towards serious political reform.

(1) https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/coalition-to-duke-energy-dump-alec/


Emma Tayloe ‘19 is a Chemistry major from Arlington, Virginia. Contact her at emtayloe@davidson.edu