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October 19, 2017

Point counterpoint: Camping out doesn’t change a thing

“The new world demands less obvious heroism,” said Ozymandias in the closing chapters of Watchmen.

This is perhaps the best way to sum up my initial reaction to the headline “Amherst sleeps out to protest climate change.”

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m all for climate change. I think nearly all of us can agree that doing something about our negative impact on the environment and the Earth is great. After all, as cliché as it may sound, we only have one planet, and destroying it would be fairly counterproductive, to say the least. Plus, that picture of a lonely polar bear on a fast-melting slab of ice has replaced the white whale in my nightmares. Yar …

So, considering all this, I think Christopher Potter and anyone else involved in the Massachusetts Power Shift should be praised for taking the initiative that many talk about, yet few take, to get down and dirty and do something to further a cause. That being said, perhaps this wasn’t the best line of attack for bringing about substantial change on the matter. While I am at first hesitant to question the methods of those who do actually get off their butts and lend themselves physically to a just cause, I also feel I owe them the respect of constructively criticizing their obviously admirable deeds.

As I alluded to in the quote that begins this piece, I would suggest that refusing to sleep in dorms in order to promote new energy legislation is potentially more flash than substance, so to speak. While perhaps a relatively daring idea, one could argue it is more dramatic than, say, informative or inflammatory. Again, I hate to be critical of those whose hearts are obviously in the right place, but couldn’t one’s time be better spent on furthering the message of necessary climate change instead of purchasing sleeping bags and roasting marshmallows?

Sure, people are out of their dorm rooms and in tents and that’s great I suppose, but just because they’re now in tents doesn’t necessarily do anything. I guess it’s supposed to symbolize a protest of the heavy amounts of fossil fuels that almost certainly go into the heating and maintenance of the dormitory buildings, but as commendable as that is, one could assume it’s hardly going to result in the shutting down of these buildings.

Civil disobedience is all well and good, but in this case it sort of disarms itself, given the particular circumstances of the situation. This isn’t a hunger strike or a march where policy makers and higher ups risk having malnourished and/or dead student bodies and public disruptions and disturbances on their hands. At the worst, the dorms will become less crowded for the foreseeable future. For something that is largely demonstration-based in nature, this doesn’t really seem to push the envelope that much, which is sort of detrimental to the cause.

Also, the movement smacks of potential hypocrisy that could possibly lead to unnecessary criticism flak for the cause at hand. For instance, it’s all well and good that all these people are living in tents to avoid contributing to the fossil fuel usage of dorm buildings, but I hope none of them rode in a fossil-fueled automobile to the mall or Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy their tent and supplies, thereby further contributing to corporations and businesses that most likely contribute to fossil fuel usage and carbon emissions themselves considerably.

In the article, Potter admits to still using, “dirty fossil fuels” to in order to charge his “electronics.” If someone can live out in a tent in the middle of a western Massachusetts February, you would figure they could survive without electronics as well. It’s one thing to stage a dramatic camp out on the Amherst common to prove you can go without dorm buildings in the name of energy conservation, but still needing “electronics” once again limits the potency of the statement.

To repeat, I’m not exactly happy as a pig in poop to complain about the actions of someone who is acting in the name of a just and reasonable cause. However, someone has to play devil’s advocate, and it might as well be the same guy who unceremoniously commented on the domestic terrorist attack in Austin. It’s plainly obvious these people are both dedicated and passionate about the issues of climate change and energy conservation. Are there not more productive ways to spend their time and energy?

Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at dscoffey@student.umass.edu.

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