“Climate Change Truly Is the Great Equalizer”: An Interview With Georgetown Environmental Leaders (GEL)

“Climate Change Truly Is the Great Equalizer”: An Interview With Georgetown Environmental Leaders (GEL)

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Brandon Greenblatt // 15 October 2015 //  #Experts #GoingGreen

Aaron Silberman

Aaron Silberman, a fellow student at Georgetown University with a strong interest in environmental and energy issues, currently serves as both a director of Georgetown Environmental Leaders and as the Deputy Secretary of Sustainability for the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA).  Aaron, originally from Austin, Texas, is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service considering a major in Science, Technology, and International Affairs with a concentration in Environment & Energy.  I asked him about his work with Georgetown Environmental Leaders and his perception of sustainability movements across the country.

Aaron, thank you for taking the time to share some of your experiences related to environmental activism with the Going Green community!

Tell us about Georgetown Environmental Leaders (GEL).  What is its purpose on Georgetown University’s campus, who are its student leaders, and how does it interact with the university and student administrations?
GEL was formed approximately four years ago to provide a framework that would allow different environmental organizations on campus to unite with each other.  Our goal is to communicate both with each other and the Georgetown University community in a cohesive manner.  GEL is led by four Student Directors who help organize events each semester such as a “Meet and Greet” hosted for new students, as well as a student evaluation of the university’s new Sustainability Plan.  It’s important to realize that GEL is non-hierarchical, so our intention is to unify Georgetown’s different environmental advocacy groups and not favor a single organization or policy over another.  Right now, we’re interacting with the administration to generate student input on the university’s Sustainability Plan, but our future work will be focused mainly on making sure that student, faculty, and staff voices are inherent in all aspects of university planning.

What have you found to be the biggest challenge with regard to coordinating environmental advocacy efforts on a university campus?
First, I must say that the benefits of uniting many of Georgetown University’s environmental groups under one framework outweigh any potential drawbacks.  Membership in GEL is entirely optional, and individual organizations always have the choice to include or exclude GEL from their work.  In this sense, there’s very little tension among the environmental groups at Georgetown because membership in GEL is entirely non-binding.
Second, university students’ focus on environmentalism has undoubtedly increased in the last four years, and this is a national trend not specific to Georgetown.  This means that, in general, university administrations have become increasingly receptive to organizations such as GEL and its constituent members.  Much of our work is a conversation about the nature of student involvement in the discussions regarding sustainability on Georgetown’s campus.  That is, we don’t advocate that the university adopt specific sustainability policies.  Rather, we focus on emphasizing the need for student input while discussing those policies.  Overall, throughout my time with GEL, I’ve found the university administration to be incredibly responsive to this approach, and I must say that we haven’t encountered any significant challenges thus far.

If you had to name one activity or campaign that an individual should support to encourage sustainability, what would that be?  Divestment, organic agriculture, using electric cars, etc.?  Why?   
This is a tough question, but I would have to say divestment from fossil fuels, both individually and at the corporate or university level.  In my opinion, divestment is a rather timely mechanism for causing environmental change.  Additionally, I think the notion of divestment raises broader and important questions about our society’s values and what has developed as the building blocks of the United States economy.  Divestment is predominantly a moral argument, but it’s also interesting to see how financial systems interact with the fossil fuel industry.  Most businesses promote fossil fuels as a cheap and easily accessible form of energy, but I firmly believe that it is possible to align morals with financials and have a return to investment.
As a public awareness issue, divestment is particularly interesting.  University students who campaign for their schools to divest from fossil fuels truly help to raise awareness about the danger of a reliance on fossil fuels.  If institutions are complicit with the fossil fuel industry and a citizen is unaware of such an arrangement, then change cannot occur.  On the international level, we already see that such change has happened.  At a recent G-8 summit in Germany, the United States pledged to cease the usage of fossil fuels by 2100, a decision I wholeheartedly support.
At the university level, I think divestment is a great mechanism for students to promote environmental sustainability.  I firmly believe that the motto of environmentalism should be “Do what you can!” and divestment is a clear avenue for students to lobby their university administrations.  As we saw with GU Fossil Free’s efforts lobbying Georgetown University just last semester, divestment is an opportunity uniquely available to college students.

How would you characterize the sense of environmental stewardship on Georgetown University’s campus and on other college campuses across the United States?
I’m immensely proud of both the work that Georgetown University students and students at other American colleges have done to protect the environment.  Our generation is keenly aware that our lives will be impacted by climate change; we’re unique in that we keep one eye on the future and one eye on the present.  I feel very lucky to be a part of this movement, and I’m eager to promote environmental awareness to all of my colleagues and peers.  “If you are interested in X, the environment is relevant and will affect X,” I like to say.  Climate change truly is the great equalizer, but at any age you are capable of making a positive change.

If you are interested in learning more about Georgetown Environmental Leaders, please visit their website or find their page on Facebook.

Brandon Greenblatt is a student majoring in International Affairs and studying German at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and originally from Matthews, North Carolina. Brandon is no stranger to writing and publishing as the editor of the Western Europe section of The Caravel, Georgetown's international affairs newspaper.