Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice. But, more likely, the end of the world will be caused by something far more insidious. A conspiracy, if you will, of people complacently expending what remains of our natural resources, all while continuing to release large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Bill McKibben, award-winning green journalist and noted environmentalist, does not wish to sugarcoat the reality of climate change in his book "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet." Serving as this year's Life of the Mind guest author, McKibben suggested the class of 2017 reconsider the urgency of global warming, not as a mathematical abstraction, but as an issue of individual health and safety.
Director of First Year Studies, Joe Mastrogiovanni, elaborated on the strange title of McKibben's latest book.
"He's basically saying we're no longer a part of the same world, Earth, that we have in our mindset," Mastrogiovanni said, "We're part of Eaarth, with two As. We're part of this new world. And we have to adapt."
As the founder of 350.org, McKibben is no stranger to the possibility of mobilizing individuals for the greater good. Dedicated to "solving the climate crisis," the group gets its name from the calculated upper limit of carbon dioxide parts per million our atmosphere can support, a number McKibben calls "the most important in the world."
In 2009, through over 5,000 simultaneous displays of support in 181 countries, the organization achieved "the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind," according to Foreign Policy magazine. People in Addis Ababa chanted, while students in the easily-flooded Maldives held class in the water, referencing the rising tides as a result of melting ice caps. American soldiers overseas built an oversized "350" figure out of sandbags which British citizens assembled on Brighton Beach. In 2011, McKibben led a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline, for which he was arrested and imprisoned for three days in Washington, D.C.
McKibben added that climate change will have a great impact on students in their lifetime.
Jonathan Hughes, freshman in food science and technology, is worried about the impending consequences of environmental abuse.
"I just hope we can turn around soon before things get completely out of hand," Hughes said.
McKibben outlined Iowa farmers' struggle to fertilize corn by describing the negative effect of gratuitous carbon dioxide on temperature and food growth.
"Human beings are on one hand and physics on the other," McKibben explained. "Physics don't compromise."
McKibben did not downplay the progressive actions of UT students, noting the mandatory campus environmental fee and last year's demand that the UT Board of Trustees end their holdings in fossil fuels. However, he stressed that students have an obligation to do more. For those who care to preserve "civilization of the sort we're used to having," McKibben emphasized the importance of action.
"I do not know if we are going to win this fight, but there is going to be a fight," McKibben said. "We are not going to go down easily."Undecided freshman Logan Kennedy echoed McKibben's sentiment, endorsing a call to action.
"Our planet's not going to be like this forever," Kennedy said. "We have to change. We have to change it before it gets worse."
Closing his speech, McKibben asked the freshman class to evaluate what truly makes them happy. Citing the vast sprawl of large suburban houses, McKibben offered instead the closeness of a community eating "in common," and residing in small quarters, as university students do. Although many graduates hope to never live this way again, this lifestyle conserves financial and natural resources.
"That's what's so interesting about college," McKibben said. "You may discover that you like something a little different than the American dream."