Explaining Oberlin Earth First

Kalan Sherrard

Two weeks ago, when one of the premier global warming skeptics, Richard Lindzen, came to speak, several of us in and outside of Earth First! got together and decided we needed to emphasize the danger of posing such views as an authentic or credible discourse. We came to this decision guided by our consideration of climate change and sustained environmental destruction as one of the most pressing matters the world faces today. It needs to be made clear that it is hugely dangerous to suggest that global climate change is not a serious or pressing concern, to trivialize the massive environmental destruction by leading corporations, or to condescend to popular outcry as a naive religiosity — and that to do so before the U.S. Senate is patently unacceptable.

My uncle makes an analogy that runs as follows: If the doctor tells you your child has leukemia, of course you’ll want a second opinion. And when only three out of 100 doctors say the kid’s only got a cold, you won’t hesitate to get your child treated for cancer. In terms of professional opinion, however, I was extremely disappointed that not a single environmental studies faculty member appeared at Lindzen’s lecture to interrogate his “Deconstruction” (Give me a break, right? Is he seriously employing a post-structuralist vocabulary to affect politically-driven mass starvation in the third world?). Although I would have understood this rationale, there was no public boycott of the lecture by our professors, and fundamentally, if we want Oberlin to be a fertile ground for serious respectful discourse, it cannot be only the perpetually unequal discourse between undergraduates and a Ph.D. Where were all of you?

While Lindzen’s point about the vested interest of certain corporations in carbon trading does strike home (with many corporations eager for their corner of eco-capitalism, banking on and exploiting general concern) and should be seriously consid- ered, his other “deconstructive” attempts are conspicuously one-sided, blind, exclu- sive or wrong — for instance, in pointing out statistical increases in recent U.S. crop yields, life expectancy, and access to clean air and water, he conspicuously excluded the parallel projected declines in Africa, Asia, Latin America and even poorer sec- tions of the States.

Everyone should be able and empowered to speak, and especially in an academic arena it is imperative that we respect and listen to differing opinions, so I want to make clear that we did not, and had no intention to, disrupt or impede Mr. Lindzen’s speech in any way. The Review’s last issue ran an article claiming we “took over the stage.” In fact, when Lindzen rose to the podium and was receiving initial applause, four people stood up and held up two posters and then sat back down, quietly, for the duration of his speech, holding up the posters once again at the parallel end of the talk, always on the ground in the front row. He was not interrupted once during his speech, although he did meet with some turbulence during the question- and-answer period after he threatened to sue an Oberlin student for libel.

Certainly, the man has a corner on his market. Endless litanies of eager environmentalists are eager to detail the perils of climate change — but to “Deconstruct Global Warming?” What a niche! What brilliant American entrepreneurialism! Enough already.