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F&M student fasts for climate justice

Julia Scheib
News Editor

“By Day Four, I was so out there,” said Spencer Johnson, a senior at Franklin and Marshall College who stopped eating for five days in mid-November. He was fasting in order to show—and feel—solidarity with those who have been impacted by Typhoon Haiyan, which raised the sea level near the Philippines 13 feet and, according to a Democracy Now! broadcast, was the strongest typhoon in modern recorded history. Climate scientists agree that this storm was so intense because of higher ocean temperatures and sea level caused by climate change.
Johnson’s action was part of a campaign called “Stop the Madness,” which was inspired by the Philippines’ chief climate negotiator Yeb Sano’s own pledge (at last month’s climate talks in Warsaw) to fast in solidarity with typhoon victims, and his heartfelt pleas for adequate help and meaningful climate resolutions from the rich countries who bear most of the responsibility for climate change.

Johnson on the first day of his fast.
Johnson on the first day of his fast.

Johnson wore the same hand-lettered “#stopthemadness” T-shirt for the full five days and set up tables at student eateries around his school to raise awareness of the Philippines’ pain and the urgent imperative for citizens to develop more political will behind the cause of reducing carbon emissions. He thinks he reached the most people through his blog, “Musings of the Lifted Lorax,” where he chronicled his experiences and reflections during the fast and was able to network with other climate activists from around the world.
Reading Johnson’s blog, a mix of essays, creative writing and journal entries that vent his frustrations with his own situation, our society, and the political and cultural landscape that venal politicians and corporations have created, you might begin to feel a sense of companionship and empathy. He examines and questions everything from hookup culture to mortality to consumerism to the media’s coverage of renewable energy sources, with an overarching focus on environmental issues. He is propelled rather than by the recognition that climate change presents an existential threat to humanity.
Anyone producing media content that is pro-environment and pro-climate change awareness is up against some tall roadblocks. According to New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, one reason the Times shut down its environment blog last January was that it wasn’t getting enough page views. Media outlets understand that many people avoid reading about environmental degradation, perhaps for the simple reason that it’s something that makes us feel bad because we’re all implicated, but we feel as though there’s little we can actually do about it.
“The delivery is so important,” said Johnson, adding that his stream-of-consciousness style allows him to be completely honest about his thoughts and feelings about environmental issues. “Getting all of that out is so much easier when I’m sitting there by myself and writing.” By being as emotionally honest as possible, more honest than he could politely be in person with a stranger or acquaintance, Johnson hopes to convey the urgency of the issues he writes about. His writing comes across as stored energy meant to be passed on.
Another important benefit of the blog medium is that by removing the physical component, new media takes away cultural barriers so that the message becomes more inclusive. Online, people can show interest in an issue without risking being put on the spot. “People might not want to approach me on campus because they see this crazy, hippie, radical environmentalist,” said Johnson, who has tattoos and a nose ring. When asked whether “environmentalist” had become a problematic word, he said, “We’re going to move past that term.” It’s a matter of practicality and necessity: in a movement to save our species and the world as we know it, a variety of people with a full spectrum of unique perspectives are needed to build the popular will to force politicians to meaningfully address the issue of climate change.
“We have the technology and the means to do it, we just don’t have the political initiative,” said Johnson. He hopes to spark people’s interest and build solidarity on climate change while there are still, as he put it, “eggs in the supermarket.”
To read Spencer’s blog, go to musingsoftheliftedlorax.blogspot.com.
To find out about other actions on climate, go to 350.org.
To find out about local climate actions, go to citizensclimatelobby.org.