Spaceship Earth: A land of opportunity?

At Tufts there are large systems of advisors and administrators who work to help students find success, opportunities and employment from the day students matriculate to after graduation. Many hours go into championing us to become the pioneers of public policy, the researchers who discover the next form of renewable energy and the ambassadors of tomorrow’s world. At the end of one’s time here there likely are many amazing possibilities ahead. That opportunity is not normal. Being a Tufts student is not normal. Being constantly surrounded by opportunity can make it easy to forget that most people do not have the same privileges.

Globally more than seven billion people are living their lives, all interconnected in some form or other. Nobody can go through life alone, and without cooperation on a massive scale, humanity could never have progressed in the way that it has. For all those who find fortune and success, there are many more who are left behind, rejected or not even eligible to apply in the first place.

For example: In a magazine article from 1913, Russian author Peter Kropotkin questions if prisons are working as they should. It does not take very long in his analysis for him to state prisons “are breeding places of criminality; that they contribute to render the antisocial acts worse and worse; that they are, in a word, the High Schools, the Universities of what is known as Crime.” Just as Tufts works to provide opportunity, prisons work to suppress those inside.

To be fair, there are some prisons that do provide some level of opportunity and education, but those are outliers. Instead, incarcerated people are subject to constant scrutiny and random searches, instilling paranoia into their daily lives. These conditions can have no effect other than hostility towards the government which has incarcerated them, Kropotkin states in the same article. If prisons are universities, the curriculum is frustration and little else. The programs for people leaving prison are often extremely limited, and reentry often comes with many obstacles. The consequences of the lack of opportunity shows. Five year recidivism rates in the US sit just above 76%. That’s as if Tufts had a graduation rate of 25%; there would be outrage. For American prisons, that’s business as usual.

What this all means is that our environments have profound effects on our behavior. If we are placed in environments with support, we are able to grow and learn, but placed in confinement, it’s like a flower trying to grow in sand. Institutions in the United States have been built to provide some with opportunity and others with nothing.

In the face of climate change, we need everyone to work together because we cannot fix it alone. We must guarantee that systems are designed to help everyone improve and abolish those, like prisons, that keep people down. We need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn about things like climate change, if we ever want a united front to fight it. To all those fighting for climate justice in order to succeed, one cannot forget those who are forced to stay out of the fight.