Looking around campus in the weeks after freshers week is always haunting. Campus seems to die down. It goes from a bustling campus with the Clubhouse packed to the brim, to a ghost town with the tumbleweed of plastic bags passing your feet. You see all the bags branded with the society logos in the bins and on top of lockers. They are everywhere you look. It is almost impossible not to notice single use plastic these days.
All we seem to be hearing about are all the disastrous things we are doing to the environment. A handful of news headlines surround us. Plastic straws are bad for the turtles, the school strike, the US abandoning the Paris agreement, the Amazon is on fire. Students are clued into the environment and know the danger we are facing. They know that we have about 12 years until we reach the climate tipping point, when we will have no control over what happens and the dangers that will bring. Young people are ready to make some serious systematic change. Universities have historically been huge catalysts for progressive thought and changes in policy. But that doesn't really seem to be true in this case. Is it time we push UCD to do more?
In short, the answer is probably yes. UCD has in place a sustainability policy, even if it takes a lot of digging to find an updated one. It states that UCD is planning to switch to greener energy and reduce their carbon footprint, but it's listed as a lower goal than campus development. This includes constructing buildings no one seems to have asked for and in the process creating a higher carbon footprint and taking away green space on campus.
Although UCD has brought in initiatives like recycling on campus in the last year or two, this is grossly insufficient. Recycling is better than throwing away but is still not great. It uses an awful lot of energy to recycle something and has been used as an excuse by companies to excuse producing more plastic. Plastic can only be recycled 2 or 3 times and much of the paper and cardboard often ends in up landfills anyway. UCD has not even gotten to grips with the basic green ideas which most kids are taught in primary school. Many rubbish bins do not have a recycling bin beside them. You would be hard pressed to find a recycling bin in the Student Center. Furthermore, most recycling bins on campus are only for paper or cardboard. This ignores the massive amounts of plastic that could be recycled.
UCD should be trying to turn away from producing waste rather just half-heartedly encouraging us to recycle. They should be prioritising this over giving Deeks a legacy with pretty new buildings. Instead they are ignoring some of the biggest issues facing students.
The SU are at least trying to improve things. They introduced discounts on coffee for students who use a keep cup and they did an awful lot to help with the recycling on campus. Nonetheless, they often fail to think big enough. It is not good enough to keep taking baby steps when the planet is at such a huge risk. Holding a fast fashion clothes sale with Pretty Little Thing two weeks after taking part in a climate march is just hypocritical. We do not have time for slow and steady improvements anymore.
UCD has a wealth of resources at its fingertips. It has some of the best minds in Ireland. Ask anyone around town and they know you can trust UCD when it comes to research. They have the power for interdisciplinary collaboration. You could have the environmental policy department collaborate with the social justice department to inform people on what exactly Ireland needs to do, and how to inform the public on what is happening around the world. They could make plans on how to get the average person or students to fight for much needed changes in government.
The reality is UCD isn't doing much of this. They have classes on environmental law and environmental policy. However, the re give amnesty to students for the climate strike. UCD societies didn't even support societies who wanted to strike. Tent officials tried to drown out chants with music. They ignored the reality that this is important. Some societies claimed to have been threatened with losing some of their basic grant for not following freshers’ week rules by attending the strike.
If UCD cared about the environment they would have encouraged faculties, committees and every member of staff to participate in the strike and to be sustainable in as many ways as possible. Instead they sit back and relax. After all they have written a sustainability policy. There is no need to really enforce sustainability, not when they can keep up appearances.
UCD is educating Ireland’s thinkers and leaders. These are the people who are going to have to create a sustainable world, whether we like it or not. There needs to be more of a focus on it. I know not every class can be about the environment but the reality is that so much more could be done in offering modules, funding research and informing both students and the average population. At the very least they should not actively hinder students when they want to be part of making that change.