Today I was honored to be asked to speak at the Climate Strike in Lewisburg, which took place on the Bucknell Campus, and was organized by the Lewisburg Green New Deal hub of the Sunrise Movement. These are the comments I made there.
We are here to celebrate the announcement by President Bravman that the trustees have asked for a proposal for reforesting the lawn we see here. He shared with the campus community some initial concepts, but this is very preliminary and there is still much work to be done. But much work has already been done. Many, many people were involved in bringing these initial ideas to the Trustees: my faculty colleagues Andrew Stuhl and Mark Spiro, as well as Ken Ogawa, Amy Smalt, TJ Willoughby, John Testa, Victor Udo, and Jeremy Berry-Propst. I am only a very small part of this team, and very honored to be working with all of them.
Of course, nothing is yet certain. People have different ideas of beauty and natural space, and there are many human needs to be balanced. But our success here is not that there is a final plan. We are celebrating that our collective realization that part of what we must balance on this campus is not just our own needs, but our relationship to our world.
Because let’s face it: lawns are pretty, maybe, but also pretty useless. They are nice to sit on, or play sports on, but they are also expensive to maintain, have little biodiversity, and (to my eye) are fairly boring to look at. And, in terms of surface area, they are the most common irrigated crop in the United States. Since around the close of the Civil War, we in the U.S. have treated lawns as a form of conspicuous consumption. Laws are a sign of our status as responsible homeowners. We look at our lawns – and our neighbors’ lawns — as external signs of our place in society. We even name lawns after our respected and valued donors, as a sign of our highest esteem. We have invested bits of ourselves into our lawns.
But now — we need to invest in something else.
And that’s what we are here to celebrate today – that while this is only a proposal, only preliminary, only an idea, it is a sign that we recognize that we need to invest in something other than ourselves.
We need trees. But so do birds, and opossum, and racoons, and squirrels.
We like flowers. But bees and insects don’t just like them, they need them to survive.
We walk on the ground. But the soil is a living space, with creatures that make everything above teem with life, and the ground is a carbon sink in its own right.
We need all these beings to exist with us. And their existence is threatened in so many ways. The sixth extinction we find ourselves in now is certainly not just because of lawns. Nor is it just the result of rising carbon in the atmosphere. Nor it is just about the destruction of forests around the world to support increasing meat consumption. It is all these things.
The time for binary solutions is over. We cannot choose between doing this or that. We must become people of ands. Rethinking this space is one part of that, and an important one. But we must also think about ending our reliance on fossil fuels. We must also think about how we feed our campus. We must also rethink our transportation.
And we should approach these issues at multiple levels. We were taught what we can do individually in kindergarten – turn off lights, recycle, drive less. But we also need transformations at structural levels, through institutions. We must continue to insist that these institutions make the larger changes no individual can make alone – changing our energy sources, improving public transportation, rethinking our use of public space.
And throughout, we must remember that our choices are investments in the world we want to inhabit, and which beings we wish to inhabit it with.