Tackling climate change is the communal responsibility of everyone on this planet. From the children on the Green Committee recycling milk cartons to the policy-making politicians of the Oireachtas and beyond. Not one person on this planet is left unburdened by this obligation nor our lives untouched by the effects of it.
So what are we doing about climate change here on our home-turf, UCD? What has UCD, the ‘Global University’, the innovative research powerhouse, done to lead by example in creating a greener campus?
In the past, UCD did not have a reputation of breeding eco-warriors. More recently, the Students’ Union has mandates from multiple sabbatical officers manifestos to tackle climate change as of September 2018. The Union is mandated to have an Environmental Officer on the Council, who is responsible for creating environmental changes across campus. UCDSU President, Barry Murphy listed the removal of single use plastic products from Union shops as one of the changes the current team have undertaken to promote a greener campus. In the long run, Murphy says he “is lobbying university management and have been for the past few months right up to the President and to [Vice President for campus development] Michael Monaghan for setting up a similar group to EDI but for the environment. So, an action force that would be chaired by Michael Monaghan and would have contributors from across the university, from the SU, from the environmental societies, from a representative from each school and faculty. The task force would come up with concept and set goals, for example that we would be “plastic free” by 2020 and work to aim to meet that goal.”
However, the Union is not considered the only possible harbingers of change when it comes to the question of a greener campus. The Green-Campus Committee, registering with An Taisce in 2016, aims to achieve the Green Flag for UCD by 2019. According to UCD Estate Service’s website, “Green-Campus is holistic, aiming to make environmental awareness and action an intrinsic part of the life and ethos of educational facilities. This should include the students, academic staff, non-teaching staff, as well as media, local business, contractors and visitors.” UCD Green-Campus encourages students to submit their ideas to the committee, bringing changes along the lines of the typical and familiar green campus themes, such as litter and waste, climate change and energy. While the Green-Campus programme does not aim to reward specific environmental improvement projects, it instead looks to reward long-lasting, committed improvement from all individuals involved – both students and staff. Currently, UCD does not have the Green-Campus flag and is not listed as an “awarded site” by An Taisce.
“It’s the smaller things that aren’t really thought of as making an impact that lay the important foundations for a more sustainable society.”
What if we were to look at students alone. What can a student do individually to bring about positive environmental change to their surroundings? The ordinary student need not feel out of their depth in the effort to be more environmentally conscious – in fact, it’s the smaller things that aren’t really thought of as making an impact that lay the important foundations for a more sustainable society. Darcy Lonergan manages SAVES2, an environmental initiative, at the National Union of Students Ireland. SAVES2 (Students Achieving Valuable Energy Savings 2) is a project funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 which aims to focus on not only students living in on-campus accommodation but students living in the private-rented sector.
When explaining the Student Switch Off Campaign, Lonergan sheds light on the aims of this initiative. “It’s all about getting students to save energy and also how they can build up tips on how they can be more environmentally friendly and to help combat climate change… but the main thing is energy.” These tips include simply switching off appliances to save energy, recipes that make use of leftover food to combat food waste and general suggestions on how to think smarter when it comes to shopping for produce covered in plastic. However, the duty of encouraging and maintaining a greener campus does not rest solely on the shoulders of students, but university authorities and management too. This key combination is proven to yield better results. “We really do need the two of them on board, we need to get them together. I think you really need students leading the way and taking action… a lot of the time [the authorities and staff] don’t know if students would be willing to do this sort of thing.”
If UCD students have not heard of this campaign, it is probably due to the fact that UCD is not an affiliated member of the USI. Where UCC, Maynooth and DCU jump leaps and bounds ahead as climate change combatants, UCD seems to lag behind slightly, seemingly mildly interested in the whole quest for a greener campus. It is these universities that set a fantastic example for what could be achieved. UCC has opened its first waste-free cafe. Maynooth was awarded its Green Flag on the 25th September. Trinity handed out fabric tote bags during Freshers week, as opposed to the plastic bags you see students carrying around here in UCD.
While UCD students remain silent on climate issues, the future environmental aims and projects outlined by the UCD Strategic Campus Development Plan 2016-2021-2026 show what the University can look forward to in the coming years. This plan sees key consideration of “a broad range of issues, including the general quality of the environment, sustainable development, cultural and recreational facilities, interaction with neighbouring communities, and access to public transport networks.” The plan envisions a green infrastructure network, the promotion of landscape, biodiversity and heritage here in UCD, but also ensuring its commitment to delivering the Public Sector 2020 energy targets of 33% improved efficiency, having achieved 25.6% reduction to this date. It is these ‘behind-the scenes’ stirrings that sends relief rushing to the quiet climate-change concerned. The future looks bright, and well, green for a sustainable and environmentally conscious UCD.
However, it’s time to look at ourselves as students, it seems. What can we do to lead by example in creating a greener campus? Why do we care, or more so, why do we not care? Why are we clearly ignoring the visible decline of the world that is not too late to stop? Lonergan’s words should echo in our minds.
“I just think it’s really important because we are going to have a huge crisis. Ireland didn’t have a clue how to cope with a bit of snow and floods and there is going to be more and more coming. We have to spend so much money dealing with the aftermath of these things… How much did the snow cause businesses? That’s taxpayers money.”