What a load of rubbish

Yay, another environmentalist rant!


In the dismal context of week 5, it may provide you with some sweet relief to know that we only have 12 years to save the planet: no Earth, no essay crises!

All the same, the importance of climate change in the news at the minute prompted me to reflect a little. What’s Cambridge – a city which lives, breathes and oozes vegetarian liberalism – doing to help the world beyond The Bubble?

As ever, the answer is: ‘it’s complicated’.

We tree-huggers can rest easy knowing that Cambridge is at least trying to cut its ecological impact, and no rant about the university’s eco-(un)friendliness would be complete without an adoring shout-out to the Environment and Energy Sector. This November, they’re running a campaign to put a ‘Spotlight on Waste’ – drawing attention to the sheer amount we discard, policies for reducing it and encouraging recycling and upcycling in our everyday activities.

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Look! A photo of a literal spotlight on waste! I am a comedic genius!

Alongside the removal of single-use plastics, provision of tap water, sale of Keep Cups and plant-based food in cafés and butteries, Cambridge doesn’t do too badly when it comes to being green.

The recent removal of ruminant meats from UCS menus is a particularly bold move by the university, and resulted in outrage from many of Cambridge's carnivores: albeit only after a 3-minute delay whilst the entire student body Googled ‘define ruminant meat’. The university hopes this move will dramatically reduce its indirect carbon dioxide emissions (and I hope that we will dramatically reduce our use of the term ‘ruminant meat’ and just call it ‘lamb-and-beef’ like everyone else in the universe).

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A Keep Cup owner's look of love at the flask which fuels a caffeine addiction AND protects the planet. What more could you want. (Photo: Hector O'Neill)

There remains, however, so much room for improvement.

The most glaring issue is the lack of divestment in fossil fuel companies, which the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society has been fighting a futile battle over since 2015: their campaigns even involving a hunger strike by three students in May.

It’s estimated that the university directly invests a terrifying £377 million in fossil fuel corporations; an even more terrifying picture is painted by collegiate endowments partially invested in the industry, some of which are worth over £1 billion. Given Cambridge is leading the charge on global research into climate change, there’s a disappointing (and profit-driven) hypocrisy smouldering away inside the university’s attitudes to climate change.

When you think of it like that, the only green thing about Cambridge seems to be its pretentiously cut grass.

The necessity for divestment is a colossal issue – ethically and economically – and, as a result, it’s pretty far removed from the average student. Even in everyday collegiate life, however, there are glaring omissions by the university regarding environmentalism. The most obvious (and boring) of these is recycling.

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A noble Camfess-er profoundly takes on the ecological issues of the day. You go Glen Coco.

Recycling operations vary dramatically from college to college, with some boasting full-on composting schemes whilst others have entire buildings lacking recycling facilitates. The distance of my accommodation from the nearest bins, for instance, means Magdalene refuse to provide us with any bins other than those for ‘general waste’. As someone who gets through an embarrassing number of banana peels and Amazon Prime boxes (but who also loves the planet), this strikes pretty close to my heart. Woe is me.

The university certainly has admirable aspirations for its ecological initiatives: it previously hoped recycle 95% of waste by 2017. With just 50% of waste – excluding construction materials – recycled in 2017, however, there's a long way to go before Cambridge can justifiably be proud of its environmental footprint.

Next comes the part where I virtuously suggest all the things which students could be doing to better the situation. Frankly, that's a matter of personal preference: not everyone's born to be an SJW (and I've discovered that being one isn't always a very effective way of making friends) (lol).

All the same, we haven't got much to lose by supporting the Zero Carbon Society and Environment and Energy Sector's campaigns. I mean, the worst thing that could happen is we help to save the planet.