Monday, October 30, 2006

The Role of Students in Climate Change Activism (The Oxford Student)

The following is an article that I wrote for The Oxford Student on behalf of Campaign against Climate Change. This was intimidating but exciting.

Calvin Jones in The Oxford Student: October 2006

In a recent report the Institute of Public Policy Research was highly critical of the language often used by organisations dealing with climate change. The press release accompanying this report criticised the use of 'climate porn' by both green groups and the media. The reason for this criticism was not that the extreme consequences attributed to climate change are unrealistic but rather that the solutions proffered in this context are not credible. If climate change threatens ecological genocide, economic collapse and large scale reversal of progress in development then it clearly can't be solved by simply changing to energy efficient light bulbs! What is required is nothing less than a revolution on the scale of the industrial revolution. The question for students is what role can they play in accelerating the progress of this, perhaps the most global of movements in human history.

University students are in a unique situation for many reasons. Perhaps the most important attribute of student body is the strength of its networks. The student community of a given university is a relatively cohesive unit held together by a range of strong social and institutional bonds. Connections between universities both nationally and internationally are also a tremendous asset. Progress on climate change mitigation can be—and must be-- pursued on a variety of hierarchical levels: personal, community and political.

Of course all of these networks are only useful when they are utilised by committed, energetic and intelligent people with knowledge of broad ranging subjects. That is where you come in! An accurate knowledge of the science; the ability to understand the wider social and environmental impacts; and an ability to communicate this knowledge whilst empowering people rather than leading them to despair, all these skills are seldom found together. Universities are one place where people with all these abilities frequently meet. Physical scientists, sociologists, historians and marketing students--a melting pot of creativity.

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, the first step to encourage change is to be the change. Taking personal responsibility for our 'carbon footprints' is where we all need to start. Living on student loans in high density accommodation with a limited amount of spare cash to spend on high carbon activities and goods it is perhaps true that students contribute less than the average UK citizen to climate change. On the other hand, there is progress to be made. Do you buy food in season, or do you enjoy apples flown in from South Africa and New Zealand? Is your accommodation a temperature at which you can work or do you leave the heater on and open the window when it gets to hot. Remember we are in a crisis situation, we cannot be complacent, the science tells us that by 2050 we will have a carbon budget of 0.9 tco2 per person if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. We need to look closely at our lifestyles and make some difficult decisions. This is perhaps exemplified by the case of aviation.

For many people in society at large climate change is overwhelming precisely because personal action is difficult and access to further levels at which action can be taken is not readily available. For students however, the opportunities at the community and political levels are highly significant. Whilst individual students tend to live in a relatively low carbon manner, the premises in which they study, relax, receive advice and exercise tend to be far from energy efficient. Universities are often driven to progressive policies by there students; from energy saving renovations, to effective recycling schemes to on-site renewables and even changes in the curriculum to reflect new challenges being faced by society. Of course community level action encourages personal action. If there are secure cycle racks, safe cycle lanes and places for people to keep there cycling gear then it is far easier for people to make that positive decision and cycle at university and put off buying a car for a few years, perhaps even get into the habit of living without one.

When looking for partners abroad to work with on climate change 'Campaign against Climate Change' (CaCC) often look to work with youth groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly the most active student groups appear to be in the USA where government intransigence might have been expected to breed a revolution, well its getting close! The 'Campus Climate Challenge' has so far persuaded 243 colleges to sign up to buying 100% renewable energy. Meanwhile students are securing agreements for Kyoto level reductions from colleges, getting on site solar built in California, receiving pledges of carbon neutrality by 2010 and blockading power stations. They are also an extremely visible presences at the international climate negotiations and on the election trail supporting green candidates.

Not all of the excitement is happening in the USA though. On November 4th as part of the international day of action on climate change the UK will be holding the largest climate change rally ever to have occurred in the UK. Upwards of 20'000 people are expected to converge to Trafalgar square, many marching alongside CaCC, from the US embassy, in a the March for Climate Justice. For a global problem, we need global solutions, we need a global movement pushing for tough and rapid action on climate change. In conclusion, the key role for students is not simply to help to run a more just and sustainable economy in the future but to act now, particularly through there networks to catalyse progress nationally and help to build the movement globally. and

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