Author, filmmaker and climate activist Mike Tidwell challenged Goshen College to fight for climate justice in three public lectures this week.

Tidwell’s appeal to the GC community centered on the idea that a solution to the climate crisis is possible and while it “can’t happen overnight, it has to happen soon.” Tidwell called students in particular to action, stating boldly that “We need a mass movement to overcome the very very powerful fossil fuel industry.”

Young people, Tidwell pointed out, have a unique influence in the realm of advocacy, from changing college policies to national laws. “[Authority figures] don’t look at you [young people] and wonder ‘What’s his angle?’ They hear you.”

Tidwell is best known to the GC community as the author of “The Ponds of Kalambayi,” a memoir written about his time in the Peace Corps and one of the required readings for the Goshen Core class Identity, Culture and Community.

While most of his current work involves climate advocacy through the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an organization of which he is both founder and director, Tidwell was also pleased to discuss the memoir during his 9 a.m. Wednesday lecture to this year’s first year class. The book, which he wrote some thirty years ago, recalls for him a time spent among the world’s poorest people. These same people, he says, are affected by climate change even though they leave “virtually no carbon footprint.”

In addition to his Peace Corps work, other major influences in Tidwell’s fight for climate justice include a desire to create a sustainable future for his son and a personal faith commitment to responsible stewardship.

Tidwell proposed two levels at which people must engage the fight for climate justice. First at the personal level, he sets the example with his own story of “going obnoxiously, hideously green.” Installing solar panels, adopting a vegetarian diet, and using an organic-corn-fueled stove to heat his home are all steps Tidwell has taken to reduce his own carbon footprint.

Tidwell highlighted one action which every member of the audience should take to transition from personal measures to affecting broader change: sign up for an email list from an organization that is “totally focused on climate change.” This, he said, will connect individuals to petitions, upcoming protests and suggestions for further lifestyle changes, which he denotes as the second level of engagement.

In his Wednesday convocation, Tidwell called out Mennonites in particular for being “hesitant to step out of the community” and make changes beyond the personal ones. Changes within a community are important, Tidwell said, but because “America is a country of laws,” he believes that the answer to the climate crisis will come through legislation. “It can’t just be voluntary anymore.”

Tidwell affirmed the work that Goshen College has done already to divest from coal and explore alternative energy options, especially at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center. However, he said that “we can’t just talk a good game” and that further changes must be made, especially in the area of divestment. He suggests that students ask the administration questions like “Why are you handing us tools for our future…  while taking our money and investing it in the very fossil fuels that are destroying that future?”

In a follow-up interview, Tidwell further encouraged students not to give up and to “push for change at the institutional level and beyond” even if it doesn’t come during an individual’s four years here. “Keep in mind that we also need to have patience,” he said.

Tidwell also suggests that Goshen students connect with environmental groups at other colleges as a means of staying motivated and gaining access to resources.

Tidwell also affirmed the work of EcoPAX and GC Divest as concrete ways for students to get involved in the fight for climate justice. Following Tidwell’s convocation address, EcoPAX co-leader Hannah Yoder announced an organizational meeting happening next Wednesday at 7:30 pm to connect EcoPAX and GC Divest to climate organizations in the Goshen community and beyond.