Power Outage by Parker Richardson ’21

Nearly 5 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans – American citizens – remain without power. It is the biggest blackout in U.S. History and still some homes are not anticipated to regain power until May. Emergency efforts dealing with power devastation following the hurricane were centralized, and consequently exhausted, on the mainland of the United States, leaving the island vulnerable. In times of devastation, it becomes clear just how low of a priority Puerto Rico is to the rest of the United States – out of sight, out of mind, perhaps.

It was not until a week after the hurricane hit that short-term federal aid was sent to the island and that the news cycles addressed the disaster. That week, journalist Julio Ricardo Varela commented on this neglect: “The United States may not like to see itself as the type of nation that has colonies, but if you’re not treating Puerto Rico and its American citizens the same way as you treat states and theirs, that’s the only explanation. The island always struggles to get federal aid for natural disasters that flows virtually automatically to people on the mainland. Maria is the worst example, but it’s hardly the first.” Puerto Ricans have long been reduced in the eyes of Congress and mainland citizens. In fact, according to a recent poll, only 54% of U.S. adults were aware that people born in Puerto Rico were American citizens. Author of War Against All Puerto Ricans Nelson Davis believes Puerto Rico is seen merely as “a profit center for the United States: first as a naval coaling station, then as a sugar empire, a cheap labor supply, a tax haven, a captive market, and now as a municipal bond debtor and target for privatization.” Many Americans view Puerto Rico in terms of how it can benefit the United States as a whole; it is considered a territory rather than a part of the United States or a home to 3 million Americans, Americans who are treated like second class citizens – if citizens at all.

After three months without power, Puerto Ricans took to protesting. Hundreds of citizens of Aguas Buenas and Trujillo Alto filled the public square of Aguas Buenas and demanded a restoration of power. Protesters made a banner reading “We demand light,” something taken for granted everyday on the mainland.

Existing as an unincorporated territory leaves Puerto Rico in a state of limbo, having neither the full powers of a state nor complete independence. Though Puerto Rico is subjected to U.S. Congress, the island sends a single non-voting representative to Washington. Deprived of the power to motivate solutions to $115 billion debt and to correct deeply rooted problems in government structure, Puerto Rico is trapped, confined as a territory, reduced to a colony. In times of crisis, like when hit by a Category 5 hurricane that destroyed an already faulty power grid and left the island without power, the territory is powerless in a greater sense, too.

But this does not stop Puerto Ricans from seeking change; in the wake of the hurricane, some have made a push for Puerto Rican statehood, to establish the full rights of citizenship for Puerto Ricans. In January, a delegation of politicians from Puerto Rico travelled to Washington, D.C. to appeal as voting members of Congress. Yet Alexia Fernández Campbell deemed this act “largely symbolic”because “voting on Puerto Rican statehood is nowhere close to the top of Congress’s agenda.” Members of Congress recognize the issue, but there has been little done to rectify it.

Continually neglected by disaster efforts from the mainland to restore power, Puerto Ricans have been taking the power into their own hands – literally. One woman in Coama, Carmita Rivera, unable to sit idly and wait for rescue any longer, led a local meeting to take action to restore power to her neighborhood. Rivera was no longer content with being treated like a second-class citizen. She said “Desperation set in. We all felt like: ‘What about us? We’re human beings. Enough is enough.’” Together, fifty neighbors restored a power line, laying a 300-pound electric post on top of two logs and placing the pole into a five-foot deep hole. Another group, this one composed of retired company workers and volunteers, has restored power to 2,000 homes in the town of San Sebastian.

These people demonstrate incredible resilience and care, but they shouldn’t have to in the first place. Undeniably, residents of Puerto Rico are treated unequally and unfairly; Puerto Ricans are American citizens, too, yet the United States seems to fail to acknowledge them as human beings. Disempowered by natural disaster and country, Puerto Ricans have been channeling the power within themselves to manifest the rights they deserve.

phrichardson21@amherst.edu

Letter from an Editor: The Power of Sports by Jake May ’19

My father has been a die-hard Knicks fan for his whole life. In the 1990s, when the Knicks were the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, my dad was a season ticket-holder. Unfortunately, the best team in the East at that time was the unstoppable Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan. During the 90s, my dad routinely witnessed the Knicks lose big game after big game, never quite being able to overcome the Bulls’ greatness. While occasionally the Knicks brought my father joy, for the most part, they only brought disappointment.

Upon reaching the age when I was old enough to understand sports—which for me was six years old—it was only fair that I join my dad in his Knicks-induced sorrow. During my childhood, the Knicks were an aggressively terrible basketball team. But as a kid, I didn’t harbor the animosity toward the team that many older fans did. I remember going to games at Madison Square Garden and refusing to leave early even though the Knicks were being annihilated by their opponent. I remember being confused and concerned when the Knicks were being booed by their own fans. I begged my dad to get me the jersey of the overpaid, aging players for which the team had foolishly acquired. Back then, I thoroughly enjoyed being a Knicks fan.

As I’ve grown older, this recreational enthusiasm has morphed instead into a mixture of optimistic obsession and woeful obligation. I still care deeply about the success of the New York Knicks, and I am often optimistic about the team. For example, in 2015, the Knicks used their first-round draft pick on Kristaps Porzingis, a 19-year-old, seven-foot-tall Latvian. Many Knicks fans were dismayed at this decision, as tall European prospects have a history of being draft busts. Furthermore, the Knicks have a history of completely botching draft-picks, so the fans’ concern was quite understandable. However, for some reason, I chose that moment to be optimistic. On the night of the draft, I posted to Facebook: “I don’t care what you say, I love Kristaps.” If I remember correctly, the post received zero likes, as most did not share in my enthusiasm. As the 2015-16 NBA season approached, the doubts about Porzingis continued to fester among Knicks media and fans.

By the middle of the ’15-’16 season, everything changed. Kristaps Porzingis was proving through excellent play that, even as a rookie, he was a transcendent talent, more than worth the first-round pick we spent on him. Porzingis was challenging the equally impressive Karl-Anthony Towns for rookie of the year honors. He was making three-pointers from way beyond the arc. He was actually good! His success was hard for many Knicks fans to believe; our team’s drafting history is plagued with mistakes, misfortune, and missed opportunities. But finally, we had found our home-grown savior, not an aging superstar for which we traded, but a young, exciting player around whom we could build a team. At that point, the rest of the Knicks world—from the team itself, to the media, to the fans—had joined me in my Kristaps-inspired optimism. Everything seemed to be working out nicely.

Cut to early February of this year. Things were going fine for the Knicks; they were not quite good enough to contend in the playoffs, but also were too good to “tank” (a strategy in which a team accepts that they are bad and gladly loses as many games as possible in order to get an advantageous pick in the draft). This predicament was certainly not the most desirable; however, because of our great Latvian hope, Knicks fans remained optimistic.

Then, on the evening of Tuesday, February 6th, as I casually followed the Knicks’ contest against the Milwaukee Bucks while trying to complete a physics problem set, I received an ominous text from my dad: “Oh no…Kristaps,” the blue bubble read. I sat silently, stunned. That text could only mean one thing. A moment later, my dread was confirmed. An ESPN notification appeared on my phone alongside my father’s text; “Kristaps Porzingis Goes Down with Significant Knee Injury” was the gist of it. Later that night, it was reported that Kristaps Porzingis — our great liberator, our basketball shepherd, our deliverer of optimism—had torn his ACL. Porzingis won’t play again for at least 10 months, if not more, and even when he returns, it’s likely he’ll never be the same player again. We’d lost our savior.

As a Knicks fan, I am no stranger to tough losses. In the 2000s, I watched our inept general manager Isiah Thomas make bad deal after bad deal; in the early 2010s, I watched a team that could have been great devolve into a mess of in-fighting and ball-hogging. Since I have been following the Knicks, they have only won a single playoff series. I—along with all Knicks fans—have suffered my fair share of disappointment

But this disappointment was different. This was unfair. The previous plights could be explained—incompetent management, an aging team, an inexperienced team, et cetera. This time, there was nothing to blame. Porzingis simply landed awkwardly after dunking. It could have happened to anyone. But of course it happened to the Knicks; each time our team has been surrounded with optimism, the basketball gods find a new way to spoil it.

In that moment, as I read and re-read the ESPN notification, I wished I was not a sports fan. I wished that my dad had spared me and urged me to ignore the NBA. I wished that I could disregard my deep emotional ties to the Knicks and understand that it’s just a basketball team. Here, though, is where that woeful obligation side of my fandom kicks in. I have given too much to the Knicks: too much time spent watching games when I should’ve been doing homework, too many trips home from The Garden with a hoarse voice from cheering, too many Knicks-related phone calls with my dad. I can’t just turn my back on them now, even if I tried. One day, I believe, the Knicks will deliver their end of the bargain. When the Knicks win the NBA championship, my commitment, my fandom and my obsession will all seem worthwhile. But right now, it feels awfully worthless.

jmay19@amherst.edu

Why Students Should Care About Amherst’s Climate Action Plan, by Rojas Oliva ’19, Charlotte Blackman ’20 and Bryan Doniger ’18

“Unless people are engaged in the struggle–unless they themselves have gone through the process of creating change through collective and individual acts of solidarity, reciprocity, and cooperation–they will not internalize democratic, egalitarian and ecological values or be convinced of their necessity.”[1] – Fred Magdoff & Chris Williams

It’s already been too long. In February of 2015 the Amherst College Board of Trustees released a statement acknowledging “the grave threat posed by climate change, the role in climate change played by human activity, and the responsibility we bear to confront this challenge.”[2] This was 27 years after the director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, James Hansen, came to the same conclusion in his testimony before congress.[3] As a result of the board’s rhetoric, in March of 2015 the college formed the Climate Action Plan Task Force–a group consisting of students, professors and administrators tasked with drafting a Climate Action Plan to transition the college’s energy infrastructure to carbon neutrality.[4]

After three years of planning, students will finally have the opportunity to learn about the current Action Plan on Monday, February 26th at 7 pm in the Red Room. Laura Draucker of the Office of Environmental Sustainability will help facilitate a town hall meeting, in which she will introduce the committee’s plan and offer students a chance to ask questions.

We applaud this effort to take seriously the consequences of Amherst’s energy consumption. We are pleased that Amherst has made some effort to include students in the transition. However, we remain nervous that the plan, as it stands, will do too little, too late.[5] Amherst has a long track record of dismissing student calls for greater accountability regarding the College’s environmental impact. Note, for example, the continued refusal to divest direct and indirect holdings in fossil fuels and private prisons. As Kristen Bumiller wrote in this year’s Disorientation Guide, “[a]s a general rule, when organizations are challenged, they are likely to protect their reputations, minimize liability, and address only immediate concerns.”[6] Without strong, persistent and organized student involvement, it’s likely that the Climate Action Plan will not do enough to address neither the impact our emissions have on a global scale nor our role as  energy consumers at the local level. Indeed, we worry that Amherst will do the bare minimum required to maintain a progressive image relative to peer institutions.

The implications of a carbon neutral Amherst College extend far beyond our campus. Western Massachusetts has a vibrant history of local resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure expansion. In 2016, students participated in the successful campaign to block construction of the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline.[7] This past year, during the construction of a pipeline in Otis State Forest, the Massachusetts State Police arrested over 100 people for peaceful, non-violent resistance.[8] Recently, Columbia Gas has proposed a series of pipelines in the Greater Springfield Service Area.[9] All of this pipeline expansion gives gas companies economic incentives to continue to use them for the 40 years that the pipelines will be operational, pushing the possibility of action back an untenable amount of time. If the College were to commit to a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, the arguments of energy scarcity used to justify the expansions would falter.[10]

However, the window for Amherst to implement effective policy change is closing. This is where students come in: We are only here for four years, but how we use our collective voices will determine the Amherst’s carbon footprint for years to come. Student participation is crucial to ensure that Amherst transitions to carbon neutrality with the rapidity and thoughtfulness that any response to climate change requires.

Students should care about the Climate Action Plan because we are faced with an intergenerational responsibility to move toward renewable energy as quickly as possible. The emissions released today to warm our buildings, turn on our lights and heat our water will stay in the atmosphere for the next 20 to 200 years.[11] Such emissions will eventually wreak untold violence on human and non-human communities across the globe. The consequences of inaction are already being felt through heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires, rising acidified oceans to droughts and mass extinction.

Additionally, efforts to curb climate change should be of interest to any liberal arts student who wishes to foster care and justice in an interracial, multicultural community. The damages of climate change are predicated on histories of racism and colonialism.  Wealthy countries drive overproduction of fossil fuels and overuse of land. For example, when the United States outsources manufacturing, it also outsources the pollution created by manufacturing, causing health issues and ecological destruction in poorer countries. In the early 2000s, the rate at which we outsourced carbon emissions was growing steadily at 11 percent every year.[12] Such overconsumption and outsourcing practices reinforce neocolonial abuse of poor people of color in faraway places.

Finally, this opportunity to shape Amherst’s future is a moment when students can work toward creating the fair and equitable communities we desire. Amherst has a rich legacy of student activism and commitment to fighting injustice both on and off campus. Students have leveraged their power to create the Five College Black Studies department, to divest from South African apartheid, and, during Amherst Uprising, to transform the future of our campus. Students activists, coming together to challenge and reshape institutions, are a tried and true source of radical transformation.

On a global scale, the time frame is even more urgent. In order to have a chance of keeping warming to below 2 degrees Celsius–the tepid target negotiated in Paris–every new power plant would have to be carbon neutral starting in 2018.[13] In other words, we’re already too late. Yet, it is still possible to create grassroots movements in which communities act autonomously to meet human needs within sustainable limits, mitigating the further degradation of our planet. Transforming the world’s energy basis also necessarily entails transforming of our economic and political order. In small ways, we can begin to work toward such a transformation here at Amherst.

roliva19@amherst.edu; cblackman20@amherst.edu; bdoniger18@amherst.edu

 

[1]Magdoff, Fred, and Chris Williams. Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation. Monthly Review Press, 2017.

[2] https://www.amherst.edu/amherst-story/facts/trustees/statements/node/600726

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html?pagewanted=all

[4]Carbon neutral colleges make no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There are different ways of defining what does and does not count as part of a given college’s “energy infrastructure.” We maintain that a carbon neutral Amherst would not increase atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration through either on site energy usage or other energy purchases

[5] Unfortunately, the draft has not yet been publicly released, so we cannot currently publish the details that we find most troubling (for instance, the sluggish pace at which the College promises to go carbon neutral—slow even when compared with many peer institutions).

[6] https://amherstdisorientation.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/what-rights/

[7]https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/04/20/kinder-morgan-shelves-billion-new-england-pipeline-project/iEafnAP2P41o0B9tmM0lEI/story.html

[8] Higgins, Eoin. “In Massachusetts, Protesters Balk At Pipeline Company’s Payments To Police.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 3 Dec. 2017.

[9] http://climateactionnowma.org/wp-content/uploads/CAN-comment-DPU-17-172.pdf

[10] It should be noted however that there are significant reasons to doubt these claims of scarcity: https://theberkshireedge.com/utilities-manipulated-natural-gas-supplies-causing-artificial-shortages-soaring-energy-prices-study-finds/

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhouse-gases-remain-air

[12]https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/4/18/15331040/emissions-outsourcing-carbon-leakage

[13] https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/201603-two-degree-capital