Andrew van Baal

STUDENT – Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC) + Student Carbon Neutrality Network (SCANN)

“I’m a lifelong Michigander. I grew up along Lake Michigan, and that, I think, definitely formed my interest in environmentalism.  I didn’t realize it was a super huge passion until I got here and got plugged into the work that was happening here. Coming in as a political science student, you start to kind of hear bad things are happening. And then you study and read things and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is actually really bad and no one’s hearing about it.’ I think a huge catalyst for that was the Trump presidency and policies that were just steamrolled. A bunch of environmental regulations pulled back, a lot of which were behind the curtains and people didn’t get to see like, yeah, we’re scaling renewables, but we’re scaling fossil fuel permits at an incomparable level. And I think just–actually digging in and seeing that happening from the policy perspective was a turning point for me. And I was realizing [that I went from] wanting to go into electoral politics, to recognizing there’s a huge gap in the policy understanding of what’s going on with the environment and how we can do the things we need to do for climate change, because the data is there, and it’s really great that it’s there, and people are doing that research, but it’s not being activated.

Joining the Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC) was a huge turning point for me in getting involved. I am now a Program in the Environment major in LSA, enjoying environmental policy and advocacy work, [and] I’m planning on entering an accelerated Master’s at SEAS to deepen my knowledge in the fall. They have an Environmental Policy and Planning track that I’m interested in and I still think that’s a meaningful avenue to explore, since policy can be a huge lever for change when done effectively.

I think that, from an on-campus standpoint, and also broadly, [climate change] affects everyone in different ways. There are obviously regions that are way more vulnerable. For example, the Global South is dealing very much with flooding and extreme heat and other consequences of climate change. But it’s going to affect everyone on a different level. And I think that, for me, is always corresponding to wealth inequality. Where there is more wealth, there will be less impacts. Typically. It’s not the case everywhere. Still, I think that I want everyone to know that it’s not a separate entity from whatever you’re working on, or whatever passion you have. [Environmental activism] fits so well, with every discipline like business, engineering, natural science, and more. There’s room for it to be incorporated into everything. And I also think that I want people to know that the guilt should not be on the individual level, because we are part of giant systems that are really, really hard to shift and change that we cannot directly control. Now, I think [that’s why] the biggest thing for me has been getting involved locally. I think it is the best place to start. And that’s why I wanted to be in groups like [SSC and SCANN] that are serving campus and serving this campus community. Because there’s a lot that needs to be done here. That needs to be done everywhere.

We can’t stop pumping fossil fuels and pumping oil and gas today, but we can get involved with our communities. We can make an impact and change a policy on the city level or make something a focus point of the university or something like that. I think that it’s going to affect everyone and we should find the right areas for us to get involved remembering the global context, but we should also be putting effort in at that local level because if we all do it at that level, then it’s going to be a lot more impactful. I’m hopeful that everyone on this campus has the opportunity to be involved in some kind of sustainability mechanism.”

As part of the LSA Year of Sustainability, LSA Dean’s Fellow Cherish Dean sat down with a range of students, staff, and faculty across the University to illustrate the various relationships people across campus already have to this work, to showcase ways people can get involved, and to highlight the reasons that this work should matter.

To view an abbreviated transcript of Cherish’s full conversation with Andrew, click here.

Cherish can be reached at To contact the LSA Year of Sustainability Team as a whole, please contact

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