Missing the point of climate activism: A response from a non-activist
Climate change is a huge problem, and every little victory brings us closer to solving it.
Due to the controversial nature of this topic, The Tab would like to note that this is an opinion piece and does not reflect views beyond those of the writer.
As a person whose journalism experience extends only to writing a spelling mistake ridden live blog of a rugby cuppers final, and whose activism experience is non-existent, I still wish to say that the article Why Cambridge should NOT divest misses the point of activism and protests entirely.
Breaking away from one taboo topic to another, consider the ongoing political circus that is Brexit. Every weekend there is a march, a demonstration, a protest. Friends and family argue daily why we should or shouldn’t leave, or what a deal should look like, whilst the news talks to anyone and everyone to discuss what the government should be doing. While few will admit it, this activism almost certainly won't change what the government is doing. Agree with it or not, the government is going to do what 52 per cent of voters want; leave the EU. But that doesn’t mean the activism agitating for remain, a "people's vote", or even in support of a no-deal Brexit (like the March to Leave on 29th March) means absolutely nothing. Activism has its own vital place in the process in making sure people don’t forget about Brexit and ensuring the government is held accountable to make every effort to compromise to try and appeal to the 48 per cent of remain voters.
It is the same with the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society. While their primary goal may be to achieve complete divestment from fossil fuels, additional goals are also to raise awareness of the universities investment strategies, such as when student pressure brought to light the £6.5m of investment by colleges in the defence sector, as well as improving awareness of climate change as a whole amongst the University. This is something it has achieved to spectacular effect, with college JCRs now pressuring colleges into greener initiatives, such as carbon offsetting May Balls or reducing use of plastic in college bars and halls. With respect to the defence investment, the rise of the “divest, disarm, decolonise” marches at Cambridge prove that if someone raises awareness of an issue, people will want to solve it. While it might not single-handedly solve the problem, it has led to little victories that when added together start to make a palpable impact.
This shift in behaviour also goes to prove that activism like this doesn’t “suck creative out of initiatives which might actually solve climate change”, instead doing the opposite and creating a hunger for new initiatives. The more people kick up a stink, the more colleges, departments, and businesses pay attention to what they are doing. Take Boston Tea Party completely banning the use of single use cups in its cafes, with others offering incentives to customers who bring their own reusable cup. With 2.5 billion of these cups being thrown away each year and only 0.25 per cent being recycled, this shift to reduce and reuse is going in the right direction. This push wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for climate and environmental activism, fighting each small fight tooth and nail too slowly but surely begin to force corporations to change their behaviour for the better.
Finally, the notation of the politicisation of university finances, as well as saying the university should be “divorced from student-politics, especially when it comes to the management of its money” is a dangerous idea. I admit that I'm not a big fan of, or particularly involved with, student politics. However, it is undeniable that those that do have made many a positive change for the University. From the protest by St Edmunds students over the Dr Noah Carl's fellowship and the withdrawal of a visiting fellowship to Professor Jordan Peterson , to the easier opt-out system for class lists, the impact of student protest is evident. While your tuition fees may not go directly in the pockets of the CEO of Shell or BP, shouldn’t students, as well as university staff who rely on funding, be informed and have some say in where and how this money is used?
Climate change is one of the most, if not the most pressing issues facing the planet. As such, it can understandably feel like an insurmountable problem to tackle as an individual. This is what makes the collective work of activists putting pressure on institutes like the University essential to bring change on a larger scale. Climate change does need the “co-operation of entire nation states” to successfully tackle it. However, one can’t forget that the University of Cambridge is a globally influential institute; divesting would send a message to other important institutes, as well as to the government and other nations that action needs to be taken if we are to "stop" climate change.
To use the cost-benefit analysis suggested in the original article; the cost of divesting and investing this money elsewhere brings a huge benefit to the fight against climate change. Activism, in all its forms, is a major benefit in the battle against climate change. By no means is it something to be so easily dismissed.
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