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This was not your typical “go forth and change the world speech,” but rather a sober twist on it.

Writer and Amherst parent Elizabeth Kolbert addressed some 460 new Amherst College students who gathered in Johnson Chapel for the eighth annual Benjamin DeMott Lecture during Orientation 2013, telling them that they already have changed the world, more specifically the environment, through their very existence on the planet.

Kolbert said the state of the earth is much worse than she described in her highly acclaimed nonfiction work Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, originally published in 2006. The ice cap over the Arctic Ocean is quickly shrinking, carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is being pumped into the atmosphere at a higher rate than scientists predicted a decade ago, and oceans are being acidified as result, with ominous consequences for marine life.

Kolbert’s book was assigned to all first-year students and was the subject of discussions with faculty and staff during Orientation. A former New York Times journalist, Kolbert has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999.

Acknowledging that her message was a “grim welcome” to the college, Kolbert offered no easy solutions, but this bit of encouragement:

"The truth is you also may come up short, but that does not mean that you do not have an obligation to try. Though I can't provide you with any answers tonight, I still believe in changing the world and working to make a  positive difference. I suppose that really does show you the power of a college education."