Letter: Student-led campus climate conversations sparks calls for action

Officials in Cape Town, South Africa are organizing 200 emergency water stations in preparation for when the city will have to shut off taps to millions of homes and businesses later this year. National Geographic cautions that climate change and population growth will force cities around the world into similar water crises. Meanwhile, scientists warn that the next three years are critical to mitigating the profound threat of a warming world. Society’s most marginalized will suffer the worst consequences — disease, drought, floods, wildfires. It’s easy to throw up our hands in despair at these stories — what can we do in the face of such a complex, global threat?

We can turn to our friends, our families, our communities. We can draw hope from one another. We can engage. We can build and connect and collaborate and know that millions of others around the world are fighting the same fight.

This past year, more than a dozen student sustainability groups, representing thousands of students at the University of British Columbia, realized that our power would be amplified if we worked together to coordinate our efforts. We formed the UBC Sustainability Collective.

Recognizing the urgency of the climate threat, the profound injustices that will be compounded by a warming world and UBC’s potential to be a global leader on the issue, we decided to host a Climate Town Hall in the AMS Student Nest. On March 6, 2018, we brought together hundreds of students, staff and faculty, and generated myriad of creative, workable ideas for action.

After months of preparation, more than 50 student volunteers spent the afternoon sparking discussion and gathering feedback on creative ways for UBC to lead the fight against climate change and for climate justice. Working with UBC’s University Sustainability Initiative, we mapped the innovative work already being done across campus to identify further opportunities for collaboration.

We brought together people working, studying and teaching in engineering, law, chemistry, biology, political science, education, geography, land and food systems, economics and countless other disciplines to brainstorm bold ideas for capping global carbon emissions within the critical three-year window.

We asked what it would look like for a university to commit to climate justice; how to mainstream climate change and climate justice issues into the curriculum; how to best connect researchers and students from across the university working on climate change; how to foster civic engagement and support student involvement in the wider community; how to better integrate and support art, storytelling, public engagement and communications into campus climate action.

And the response we received was overwhelming.

Hundreds of people showed up to support bold climate action and to show their commitment to continuing this conversation into the future. We have begun synthesizing the masses of positive feedback collected and will soon be publicly presenting these ideas to the university and others. Over the coming months, we look forward to working together with UBC to see these ideas translated into action.

Now we challenge other universities and institutions to follow suit and hold their own community town halls to solicit ideas from students, staff and faculty on how their institutions can take a greater role in the fight for climate justice. Is your institution taking every possible proactive step to help peak global emissions within the three-year window? Are you leveraging your knowledge and resources to help other institutions do the same? Are you centering justice in your institutional conversation?

It’s easy to think of climate change and feel like we’re all on the Titanic, heading for the iceberg — why should we engage if we can’t possibly stop the boat? But the boat is turning. We just need every single person on deck to help it turn in time. We — young people, your children and grandchildren — will suffer the consequences of a warming world. We’re calling you to arms — work with us for a just and sustainable future.

For ideas about what you can do to get involved in the fight for climate justice contact the UBC Sustainability Collective by emailing us at ubcsustainabilitycollective@gmail.com or visiting our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UBCSustainabilityCollective/.