This letter is a response to the article, “Tackling Climate Change,” published on Oct. 8 in The Gonzaga Bulletin. I would like to begin by thanking The Bulletin for writing an article that expresses the urgency of the climate situation. 

The article provides direct quotes from a recorded interview with me; however, the quotes provided do not have enough context to fully reflect what I expressed in the recorded interview and present as out of alignment with the Jesuit commitment of pursuing social justice, caring for the poor and vulnerable and caring for the planet, which are values I personally hold myself to.

In the original article, the following quote was used: 

“These carbon emissions that are released by the rich and the wealthy, those effects fall on the poor and the vulnerable, and those people ­­­— the poor and the vulnerable — those are the people who are doing nothing. They’re not releasing that many carbon emissions. They’re not affecting the global carbon footprint, and yet they are having to carry the burden the most. That is very wrong. It’s disgusting to think about, and we need to talk about that more.” 

This quote has the potential to be misinterpreted, suggesting that lower-income communities do nothing to combat climate change. This misreading was not the message I intended to convey, so I will provide some context and clarification.

Climate change does not affect everyone in this world equally. Your skin color, your income level, your location, your religious preferences — all of these can decide how much you will suffer from the effects of climate change. People of color and low-income populations are the most vulnerable when it comes to extreme changes in our climate. 

Lower-income and more diverse communities are far more likely to burn down, be flooded, have unhealthy water quality, experience air pollution — the list goes on. The injustice of this premise is that these vulnerable communities typically have a small carbon footprint when compared to wealthier, less diverse communities or populations. 

The carbon footprint of these vulnerable communities is a mere speck compared to the gigantic footprint of corporations around the globe. And yet, the burden of climate change falls most heavily upon the vulnerable. 

Wealthier communities have the resources and infrastructure to adapt to changes in the climate, while lower-income communities do not have those same advantages. 

The quote mentioned above was meant to explain this, but did not provide enough information for the concept to be communicated properly.

The original article also used the following quote: 

“The first step in combatting climate change and being truly sustainable is not something you can do by actions…It’s something you have to do within yourself.”

This quote could again be misinterpreted, as it may suggest that doing actions to help combat climate change is not enough. This does not accurately reflect my thoughts on this topic. 

There are many ways for all of us to get involved with sustainability and help combat the adverse effects of climate change. However, this battle cannot be fought alone with metal straws, reusable bottles and shopping local.

 Of course, these are all good things to do and greatly decrease your own environmental footprint. But what we need, together as a society, is a deeper commitment to sustainability, one that reassesses our relationship with the planet. As Duane Elgin, a well-known ecological and spiritual author, frames it: we can either drive this planet to ecological ruin, a future that includes genocide, warfare, starvation, epidemics and collapses of societies; or we can consciously choose to confront the reality of our unsustainable, materialistic, and consumerist society. 

This is a task that requires looking deep into the human psyche, re-evaluating how we define our relationship to nature as a whole. This is why I believe the first step we should all take in this journey does not necessarily include actions, but more reflection. Again, these ideas were not properly communicated in the quote used in the original article. 

To conclude, it is possible my words could have been interpreted in a way that I did not intend. To anyone reading this, my thoughts on sustainability and climate change have been written here with more clarity. 

If sustainability is something that you are interested in or curious about, I recommend you consider joining Gonzaga’s Sustainability Leadership Programs for students and employees. These programs align with GU’s humanistic mission. 

They were created with the goal of enriching GU’s community with sustainability-minded individuals who are prepared to advocate for sustainability initiatives and benefit the campus. The applications for these programs are due by Nov. 20.

Please email me, doughertym@gonzaga.edu for application details. I encourage everyone (faculty, staff and students) of all majors and backgrounds to consider applying. You do not need to be an environmental scientist or sustainability expert to join; the problems of sustainability and climate change involve all of us and requires all of us to solve them. Everybody must start somewhere, and this is a great place to start.

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