The relationship between art and environmental change was the center of the April 21 annual Earth Summit, which featured keynote performances by spoken word poet and UC Santa Cruz alumna Terisa Siagatonu and the Climate Music Project. The event celebrated student sustainability efforts and encouraged more students to get involved.
“A lot of times the dominant narrative tells us, ‘the only way you can make a difference or the only way you can get involved is if you have some type of power,’” said Max Jimenez, a second-year student and organizer of Earth Summit. “But for students, for people who aren’t politicians, for students of color and low-income folks, we wanted to showcase all these things through art, something that is accessible to everyone.”
Terisa Siagatonu, who delivered a keynote speech and spoken word performance, reflected on her experience performing at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 as a Samoan poet. Siagotonu also connected her experiences in sustainability to her experiences at UCSC.
“Climate change does affect me and I have a responsibility to address it as an artist and as someone who uses this platform to tell my story and to amplify the voices of others,” Siagatonu said. “Part of that work has to be around environmental justice and climate change in the state of our planet today.”
Similar to previous years, the event included student speeches, performances and tabling on campus sustainability efforts, the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and campus expansion. The LRDP and campus expansion have been ongoing conversations since the current LRDP will expire in 2020.
There were two keynote performances from the Climate Music Project and Terisa Siagatonu, spoken word poet and UCSC alumna. Isang Himig, the Filipino Student Association’s a cappella group, also performed.
“We’re trying to incorporate more intersectionality and realizing that this traditional idea of environmental studies being […] this white-dominated field — it’s not gonna work,” said Kyra Fitz, chancellor’s undergraduate intern for the Student Environmental Center and Blueprint for a Sustainable Campus co-chair.
Organized by the People of Color Sustainability Collective, the Student of Color Caucus provided a space for students of color to reflect on and express their relationships to sustainability through group discussions. It focused on visions and actions for the future, recognizing contributions people of color have made to sustainability.
“Today’s caucus focused on […] using the space to try to build community through conversation and dialogue,” said Raymond Lebeau, a People of Color Sustainability Collective intern and co-coordinator for the caucus. “Also expressing ourselves and seeing where we share similar experiences or maybe where we have distinct experiences, and being unified in that.”
Kyra Fitz and Carmen Gutierrez, co-chairs of the Blueprint for a Sustainable Campus presented this year’s blueprint, a guide to sustainability written by students. It outlines goals for sustainability and carbon footprint reduction and specific actions students can take to help reach those goals.
“A lot of people, they’ll understand climate change and they’ll understand that it’s a problem, but they won’t think that anything they can do will make an impact,” Fitz said. “So I think it’s really important to show people concise steps that they can take.”
The first keynote performance from the Climate Music Project used scientific climate data and predictions to compose a piece of music reflecting Earth’s climate. The music started calmly, but as the pitch, tempo and distortion rose with the Earth’s temperature and CO2 concentration, it became extremely intense.
“In the composition, at the first chaotic point, in like 2100, that just sounded like the Earth was on fire — engulfed in flames,” said an Earth Summit attendee at the Q&A section of the event with the Climate Music Project composer Erik Ian Walker.
Climate change and environmental justice were key issues the Earth Summit aimed to address through student agency and promoting activism. Organizers Max Jimenez and Leah Murphy said they succeeded reaching these goals for the summit.
“There is so much meaning to our work. This is definitely reaching people, even if it’s a celebration of a document, [the Blueprint for a Sustainable Campus]. It’s still a celebration of our existence, and I think that in itself is so powerful,” Jimenez said. “I feel like we actually impacted even more people and ourselves. [We] definitely found more intention and passion.”