Climates for Courage

Discouraging email correspondence this morning about Penn State Zero’s upcoming Getting to Zero conference is posted over at Energy Sovereignty.


Rock Ethics Institute Stand Up Award
The Pennsylvania State University
131 Sparks Building
University Park, PA 16802

January 16, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

I’d like to nominate Will Mitchell for the 2013 Stand Up Award. His email signature line quotes the poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do… with your one wild and precious life?” It’s my hope that recognition for his ecological courage will help Mr. Mitchell build on the excellent foundation he’s already laid for his “one wild and precious life.”

I met Will through my work as program director at Spring Creek Homesteading Fund, a State College-based nonprofit focused on relocalizing the Centre region food system, and organizing public reskilling workshops in homesteading skills.

As a Penn State Schreyer Honors student majoring in Geography and Energy, Business, & Finance, Will was involved with the Community Food Security Club and the Student Sustainability Advisory Council (SSAC). Beginning in Fall 2011, he attended several of our community potlucks with his friends. He also participated in early meetings related to starting a food cooperative in State College.

In early December 2012, just before his graduation, as a member of an SSAC delegation addressing several issues, Will made a climate change presentation to Penn State Vice President Damon Sims, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Rob Pangborn, and Senior Vice President for Business and Finance David Gray.

Will gave an overview of current climate science and carbon dioxide emissions as a function of fossil fuel combustion. He explained the SSAC’s plans to generate university-wide discussions on climate change – emphasizing how “effective, top-down help” could support that goal to make sure that every student “understands the causes, impacts, and paths forward…and what they can do in their own lives, in their professional work, and within their communities to help.” He said the SSAC also plans to “develop ambitious climate and energy strategies for the university,” noting that after 2012, the university has no official climate change mitigation commitments.

Finally, Will explicitly raised the issue of university endowments, personally asking the administrators to consider freezing all new fossil fuel investments immediately and phase in divestment from all fossil fuel investments over the next few years. He finished by noting that, at this historical crossroad, “Penn State can either choose to lead the charge and implement solutions that best fall in line with our personal and institutional ideals, or we can watch other institutions do it for us.”

In urging the administrators to actively lead the university toward more meaningful action to address global climate change, specifically through divestment, Will joined a growing campaign among college students across the country – young people acutely aware of the traumatic adult lives they’re embarking upon, as economically and energy-constrained inhabitants of a struggling planet in ecological crisis. (See, for example,

Will’s actions addressed both the ethical dimensions of climate change – the need for humans to actively reduce carbon emissions, increase carbon sequestration and relocalize economies – and also the ethical dimensions of human life: the need for individuals to act with a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging to a community of people whose lives matter.

From conversations with him, I know that Will has been extremely frustrated with the slow pace of meaningful climate response, and with institutional resistance to change. Like everyone who works within the nexus of climate, energy and economic issues, he struggles with the pain of understanding our planetary predicament, and with the concomitant despair.

The effort required to overcome that sense of futility and speak truth to power anyway, makes his act of standing up that much more exemplary. It takes a lot of courage to beat your head against a wall the first time. It takes even more courage to do it the second time, and the third, and every time after that: knowing how much it’s going to hurt, and doing it anyway.

But learning how to pick yourself up and come back again is the essence of ethical action – it’s part of understanding human work in the world as being one among many drops of water, eroding obstacles through small-scale repetition. Battlefield bravery is not about being unafraid, but about moving forward despite of the fear. And ecological courage is not about avoiding despair, but about working toward a better way of life despite the despair.

That’s how Will Mitchell serves as an exemplar of ethical leadership and that’s why I’d like him to receive the Stand Up Award.


Katherine Watt

NOTE: Will did not receive the Stand-Up Award.

Related Topic, Different Thread

From Mike Rybacki:

Would you like to be part of a unique opportunity to help craft policy in the area of energy efficiency – setting the tone for ours and the next generation?

The convergence of two items has just occurred:

  • Approval for this community – Letter of Intent – to participate in Georgetown University’s $5 million Energy Prize Competition concurrent with the Council of Government’s appeal for staff resources to assist in this three year commitment
  • A growing desire to craft a community-wide sustainability plan

I believe that these two objectives can be met with what an independent community energy committee can offer: volunteer assistance to the Council of Governments (COG) in completing the Application, identifying projects, designing and implementing programs, and monitoring the results.

In the interim, before the formal Application packet is received, COG has formed a tentative ad-hoc (sub) committee, but they are reaching out to the community. During the COG Public Services & Environment (PS&E) committee meeting today, they are asking who these people are.

With Mr. Rob Cooper’s presence (OPP), Penn State is already on the board [+Dan Sieminski? Assoc VP Finance.&Bus.], but I think getting into the $5 million Competition’s winning circle would require more than a singular Penn State/COG game plan, since part of the judging is how well the municipality partners with the entire community.

There is a COG Executive committee meeting coming up in 2-weeks and it would be great to put the buzz in by then so that we can have some momentum going into the General Forum at the end of April and even more momentum by the early May COG-PS&E committee meeting, where the Application and community leadership identification process will begin.

If you would like to join me in lending our voice to the Competition, depending on the response, I can go a step further and lobby to have an independent committee of community members formed, instead of a COG subcommittee.

Please advise if you would like to be removed from this list-serve. Or, please feel free to spread the word. Thank you, Mike Rybacki. Cell: 610-457-8298.



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