This morning I woke up and went through my normal routine of checking the news – maybe not the happiest activity, but one I believe is key to staying engaged with the world around us. I, guiltily perhaps, ended up exactly where I normally do: reading the topics I already enjoy on the Guardian’s Climate Change section. The series of headlines down the page was enough to make me feel as though I was stuck in an apocalyptic scene from the film The Day After Tomorrow; “Great Barrier Reef warns entire system at risk of…coral death this summer,” “Hawaiian Island erased by powerful hurricane,” and “Climate change is exacerbating world conflicts” being especially distressing. As a student who not only studies social justice issues academically but is also involved in Cambridge’s activist community, it can make me feel small, inconsequential and frankly quite hopeless. So, what is our answer as young people in this frightening and changing world? You don’t have to be the kind of student described above to feel an emotional connection to headlines and contemporary problems. You should, however, be someone who tries to act constructively on your morals; because if we don’t, it seems that no one will. Maybe our planet really will be at risk of a huge climate catastrophe in our lifetimes, as the most recent IPCC report warned, if we all give up without even trying.
My personal answer to these dilemmas has been participating in Cambridge’s Zero Carbon Society for the past year. We meet weekly in the Sidney Sussex Bar to discuss ongoing projects and future plans. It is very democratic, with everyone being given an equal voice – there are no hierarchies to the society and we try our best to make meetings feel both inclusive and laid back. Essentially, we are a group of students who are frustrated with the establishment’s status quo; we wish to address the global climate crisis in constructive, responsible ways. We believe that our University, labelling itself as a progressive institution, is morally obliged to divest its estimated £377 million that is currently invested in the fossil fuel industry. Through engaging in both formal and informal channels, such as writing open letters to academics, conducting marches and gatherings and raising awareness in the student body, we seek to pressure the University’s administration to reconsider its role in the battle against climate change. Last spring we organized a banner drop off Waterloo Bridge at the Oxford Cambridge boat race. This ended up being covered by national news; it’s hard to put into words the feelings of happiness and support we felt for each other over our success.
Ultimately, such a targeted campaign towards our University may alienate us from members of the student body who feel uncomfortable with direct action and being so vocal. However, Zero Carbon offers roles for anyone at all; you never have to participate in anything you feel uncomfortable with. You can complete more ‘behind the scenes’ action points, such as banner making, or research into relevant current events. Working towards a common cause, and one so essential to us all as addressing the climate crisis, offers a huge emotional and moral reward I believe students may struggle to find again once they have graduated.
So, I encourage all fellow students, nihilists and curious anyone at all, to come to the Sidney Sussex College Bar next Saturday, November 10th, at 4pm. You’ll have the opportunity to be involved in a constructive student-led movement which addresses social justice in a big way, or if you don’t want to be involved, the opportunity to at least be informed, and feel a part of something bigger than your worries about climate change.