Our Climate Emergency: Our Time Is Now
Our Role: A Call to Arms for Warwick and Beyond
In this article, the final in a series of three, GLOBUS Editor-in-Chief Todd Olive takes a look at our role in preventing our climate emergency, introducing a university-wide campaign by the Climate Emergency Coalition to encourage our university to embody and lead the change that we all need to be.
When I was younger, I didn’t understand climate change. Beyond some vague notion that burning fuel would, eventually, lead to a warmer planet, I didn’t understand the vast complexities connecting our day-to-day lives to the sheer scale of damage that we are inflicting on our only home.
And make no mistake: I still don’t.
What I do know is that climate change is not a fight that we can win, or a battle to be lost. Climate change is a labyrinth of our own making: an externality, in the words of my own academic discipline, that accompanies our own development.
Climate change, therefore, is not something external to be fought against. To overcome, as I hope the earlier parts of this correspondent’s series have demonstrated, the greatest threat to the survival of life on Earth as we know it, we must look to ourselves, to the ways in which we live, work, and play, to find the answer.
To summarise the previous article in this series: to achieve, as the Paris Climate Agreement aspires to (European Commission, n.d.), maximum average global temperature increases of 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels by 2100, we must cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 – and reduce them to net zero by 2050 (IPCC, 2018: C.1). Under current commitments, the world is expected to see warming of 3.0oC or more (Climate Action Tracker, 2018a).
This, certainly for me, is a hard pill to swallow: the most “ambitious agreement” (Goldenberg et al, 2015) on climate change to date has, so far, failed to produce anything like the change we need to bring about in order to prevent this looming catastrophe.
The question follows, therefore: what can we actually do about it?
Rhetoric that describes climate change as “a global problem”, while fundamentally accurate, proves in some ways a hindrance: if it’s a problem caused by and affecting us all, then we can leave the next person, or companies, or the government, to implement the changes we need to protect our world – right? Surely state-funded wind farms or company premises covered in solar panels would be enough? Surely?
This, perhaps, is what a younger version of myself might have understood to be true; the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees, however, disagrees. The report describes “systems transitions” that are “unprecedented in terms of scale” (IPCC, 2018: C.2): to you and me, that means far-reaching changes to every stage in the processes that make up our lives.
Take driving, for instance. A single change made to support the 1.5oC target might constitute switching to an electric vehicle: this is, however, by no means a systemic change. We must consider how the materials for the car were obtained – how much energy went into their extraction? What about refinement, or assembly into the car parts? And where does the electricity for our car come from – fossil fuels, or renewables? How do we use our car – regularly or infrequently, for long distances or short ones? To implement systemic change, the answers to all of these questions must be the best that they can – assuming, of course, that we have a car in the first place, and don’t use remodelled public transport instead.
At this point, I would like to return to a few ideas to tie them together. Global systemic change is a huge concept to understand: all of the parts and processes that are needed to construct an effective wave of change to prevent temperatures rising beyond 1.5oC are, fundamentally, beyond the ability of any one individual to understand or to achieve.
Beyond global and individual, however, there are layers of responsibility: different ‘sizes’ of thinking for us to explore, from national or regional all the way down to street-level. It is here, perhaps, in our communities, that the most effective change can begin.
We, a group of students at the University of Warwick, believe that our campus can be one of these levels. In November 2018, Bristol City Council passed a motion declaring a state of Climate Emergency, and consequently committing the city to achieving net carbon neutrality – i.e. net carbon emissions of zero – by 2030 (Wilson, 2018): in light of the University’s stated to commitment to “transform our region, country and world for the collective good” (University of Warwick, 2018), we believe that the university, as an institution and a community, should be doing the same.
But how can we make this happen?
The answer is simple; and, I hope, is obvious from the discussions made in this series. As a community body, we must act together, now, to implement wide-ranging, systemic change in the way that we live our lives: we must come together to commit our community to achieving these goals.
As such, alongside the Warwick Chapter of the Climate Reality Corps, and the Warwick Global Sustainable Development Society, we are proud to announce ‘PROJECT: Climate Emergency’: an opportunity to make this happen. We are calling on the university to declare its own state of Climate Emergency, and to follow in the footsteps of Bristol city by committing to an entirely carbon neutral state by 2030.
By joining together under one banner, we hope to work with the entire community to make a difference, to be the change that we so clearly need to see – and we would like to invite every single individual and group of individuals on campus to join us in our mission. Calling on our university to take a leadership role in community-level climate action is a powerful yet accessible way to contribute to systemic change: as students, we have a huge stake in the running of our campus, and as the university’s primary clients, our voice is incredibly powerful in determining its strategic direction.
For more information, and to support our mission by signing our petition, keep your eyes peeled: we will be launching tomorrow, Sunday 13th January, at 6pm.
The time for change is now, and the place for it to start is right here: so let us move forward together – and be the change.
Climate Action Tracker (2018). Some progress since Paris, but not enough, as governments amble towards 3°C of warming. Climate Action Tracker. [online] Climate Action Tracker. Available at: https://climateactiontracker.org/publications/warming-projections-global-update-dec-2018/ [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].
Climate Action Tracker. (2018). Temperatures. [online] Available at: https://climateactiontracker.org/global/temperatures/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].
European Commission. (n.d.). Paris Agreement. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris_en [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].
Goldenberg, S., Vidal, J., Taylor, L., Vaughan, A. and Harvey, F. (2015). Paris climate deal: nearly 200 nations sign in end of fossil fuel era. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/paris-climate-deal-200-nations-sign-finish-fossil-fuel-era [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018). Summary for Policymakers. Special Report on 1.5 degrees. [online] Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].
University of Warwick. (2018). University of Warwick Strategy 2018 -2030 – Warwick in 2030. [online] Available at: https://warwick.ac.uk/about/strategy/warwick-in-2030/ [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].
Wilson, K. (2018). Bristol declares climate emergency and pledges to become carbon neutral by 2030. Bristol Post. [online] Available at: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-climate-emergency-carbon-neutral-2219477 [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].