Commitment or Complicity: Students Lead the Movement Towards a Carbon Neutral Future


Eloise Magoncelli ’22 

Scripps College is covered with green lawns, twisting vines and a variety of shade and fruit-bearing trees. Both our official mascot, La Semeuse, and our unofficial mascot, the Scripps squirrel, conjure the same idealistic images of nature that Scripps projects from its greenery. 

Sustainability at Scripps has been largely concentrated in the Scripps Edibles program, which uses campus-grown resources to make products such as olive oil and to compost food scraps from the dining hall. 

However, Scripps’ actions as an institution do not reflect the same assumed priorities of environmentalism and sustainability that one might expect from its visual abundance of green. 

Scripps remains one of two Claremont Colleges that have yet to sign a Carbon Commitment agreement, despite ongoing action taken by the Scripps Environmental Education and Development Club (SEED) and the Sustainability Committee to move Scripps in what they say is a more environmentally-friendly direction.

When previous Scripps Sustainability Coordinator Tiffany Ortamond left in Sept. 2018 (a position that still remains empty), she passed on the idea of a carbon commitment to Julia McCartan ’21, who was the sustainability intern to  at the time. Describing this commitment as an important and helpful step to implement at Scripps, the former Sustainability Coordinator also left McCartan with the responsibility of taking action, justifying her decision by saying that this initiative would prove more valuable and powerful coming from Scripps students themselves. 

As of Spring 2018, SEED coordinators decided to advise the Scripps administration to sign Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment. According to their website, Second Nature is “committed to accelerating climate action in, and through, higher education” and has created a network of colleges and universities that are determined to prioritize the principles of sustainability on their campuses. Thus far, Second Nature has engaged with 767 schools and has 486 signatories from schools. 

Upon signing Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment, Scripps would gain access to knowledge and resources shared within this network of environmentally motivated schools. Signing this commitment would require Scripps to develop a Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality by a set date and to submit annual progress reports. 

“[By signing the Carbon Commitment, a school is] are not penalized if you don’t meet your neutrality date or even if you decrease or increase emissions on the way, the commitment is just to keep sustainability and emissions topical and at the forefront of the institution’s decision making,” McCartan said. 

Pomona College was the first Claremont College to implement a Carbon Commitment in 2017, spurred to action by student activists and the student organization, Divest Pomona, to whom, the carbon commitment actually seemed like a compromise. Despite student-led initiatives at the other 5C’s, the SEED organization at Scripps has had to take on an unprecedented workload in order to be recognized by the administration and to make a change. The frustrations that McCartan and fellow SEED members have encountered when navigating civil meetings about the commitment and the unbalanced relationship between students and admin are extensive. 

Scripps administration has maintained that Scripps is in a unique situation, arguing that the geographic location, historical architecture and old design of the campus makes complying with Second Nature’s standards particularly difficult. However, it is important to know that other Claremont Colleges have signed onto this agreement. This suggests that Scripps’ geographic location should not be used as a justification for inaction, but instead a determining factor in making institutional change. For example, the unique geography of the Claremont Colleges is especially important in arguing for a commitment as just one of the many effects of climate change, increased wildfires, is prominent and threatening to our locale. 

The fight for a carbon commitment at Scripps continues today. However, the implementation of a carbon commitment is about more than receiving signatures. It is a demand for transparency between the administration and their decisions, and the student body who are impacted by each one. The petition circulating the Claremont student body is a start to a far greater movement, one that is tied to larger themes of climate justice. 

“[The carbon commitment] is about so much more,” McCartan said. “It is about there not being a way for the administration to listen to its students… [The administration’s inaction is] a form of climate denial, when they don’t acknowledge the degree of the climate catastrophe and their complicity in it.”  

Join the SEED club Friday, Nov. 15, on the Bowling Green outside of Malott from 2-4pm to support the Carbon Commitment initiative at Scripps and protest the ways in which the administration has resisted this change.

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