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Student seminar creates ‘Notre Dame Sustainability Pledge’

| Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) aims to enact Catholic social teaching through community-engaged research, teaching and learning. This fall, the Energy, Climate and Social Change seminar course challenged students to educate the Notre Dame community on issues of sustainability. 

Courtesy of Nathaniel Hiott
One of the infographics created by the CSC seminar Energy Campaign is this graphic of the earth.

Students Connor Delaney, Nathaniel Hiott, Chiara Smorada, Keenan O’Brien, Matt Sahd, Meghan Bolinger and Bill Powers used this opportunity to address energy usage on campus. 

Working with Professor Adam Gustine through the CSC and Caitlin Jacobs in the Office of Sustainability, these students were able to initiate the Notre Dame 2020 Energy Campaign

This campaign strives to educate the Notre Dame community on the importance of action to mitigate climate change. It highlights the urgency of the climate change issue, as noted on its website, in hopes of inciting the Notre Dame community to act in ways that align with the Catholic values of creation care and the option for the poor and vulnerable.

“Climate change is going to put a lot of vulnerable people at risk,” sophomore Nathaniel Hiott, a member of the campaign, said.

For Hiott, this is why taking action is so important. He said it is about “understanding there are things that can be done personally to ensure reduction of wastes.”

In Hiott’s experience, once a person makes a commitment to doing something, they are more likely to do it. So, to uphold personal and community responsibilities to the environment, Hiott and other members of this group created a pledge. 

The Notre Dame Sustainability Pledge, as Hiott explained, is about people reading the mission statement and provided infographics, understanding there is a need to live more sustainably and then holding themselves accountable for making the changes necessary to do so. 

After a week of advertising, the Energy Campaign received 215 signatures. 

The responsibility the Pledge calls for “gives people a sense of personal empowerment to take action,” Hiott said.

Hiott said it is only with individual action and collective action that the world will become more sustainable. 

As the Energy Campaign grows, Hiott said members hope to see “Notre Dame commit to becoming a carbon neutral University as quickly as possible in addition to committing to other sustainability goals.” 

Even so, Hiott noted some resistance he has already been met within discussions with the Office of Sustainability and other organizations around campus. Hiott said he has been told it is impossible for the University to make big sustainability commitments because they do not know if they can achieve them. This, to him, is “a very fair point on their side.”

Even so, Hiott wants his group’s data to show the University that students care about sustainability and renewable energy.

At the end of the semester, Hiott and other members of the Energy Group will present their final data — the total number of signatures they receive and the preferred actions students want to see the University take — to the Office of Sustainability. Members from this office will then use this information to guide the administration in their rewriting of the University’s long-term sustainability goals, which occurs every four to five years. 

To Hiott and other members of the Energy Campaign, climate change poses a very real threat.

“It is something we need to combat now because if we do not combat it now, it is going to affect a lot more people in the future,” Hiott said. 

Considering a significant amount of carbon emissions come from a small number of large organizations, Hiott said he believes change will only come when people act on the desire to live more sustainably. To create the change necessary for environmental recovery, he said the Notre Dame and global communities must “put pressure on large corporations.”

Hiott said imminent change is necessary to prevent the communities most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change from being ignored. For this to happen, he and other members of the Energy Campaign call for action in the Notre Dame community. 

“We have the power to come together as a Notre Dame community and care for people halfway across the world,” Hiott said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Nathaniel Hiott’s grade level. The Observer regrets this error. 

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