Story posted February 13, 2012
Invited by the student group Green Global Initiatives, Auden Schendler ’92 returned to Bowdoin last week to give a Common Hour talk entitled, "Great Hope, Great Fear: Climate Change and the Search for Meaning, from Neanderthals to Extreme Skiers." He is author of Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution and is vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company in Colorado. Besides giving an inspirational yet down-to-earth talk about how to approach climate change, Schendler was frank and funny about the seeming irony in his professional role.
“I’m an environmental guy working at a ski resort,” he said. Later, he answered a student’s question about how he could be in charge of sustainability in an unsustainable industry. Schendler said he could have gone to Bangladesh and helped people install solar panels, but “I’d be taking myself out of a position of power around people with influence and wealth. The best thing I can do is talk to people of influence and power and try to change them.”
He said labeling one thing good and another thing bad as to its effects on the climate isn’t helpful. What would be more useful, he said, is a carbon tax in this country. “Closing the ski business would not solve the problem, but we could advocate for a policy of a carbon tax.”
Schendler reminded the audience that doing acts in the common good leads to personal happiness, and that climate change presents an enormous possibility for heroism. “You have the opportunity to save the world,” he said. But, he admitted the difficulty in dealing with a problem so big and convoluted by complex power structures that giving up and “just enjoying the ride" may seem more inviting.
He spoke about finding inspiration where you can, and quoted the poet Charles Bukowski: “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” He continued, “There’s a lot of precedent for very simple, common people doing extraordinary things. You have more opportunities and power than you think you have.”
Toward the end of his talk, Schendler referred to Barry Lopez’s book, Arctic Dreams, in which arctic explorers are characterized as “courageous and bewildered and dreaming people.” “Does that remind you of anyone?” he asked, and answered: “You.”