How Students Should Take the Lead to Sustain our Planet
|Date:||04 July 2021|
The temperature on earth is rising, climates are changing, and the Arctic sea ice is melting. Probably every student has heard at least one of these statements in the last couple of years. Global warming has become a hot topic and that is not without reason. The past decade was the warmest ever recorded and 2019 was the year that carbon dioxide emissions shot through the roof. No wonder climate change has been a lot in the news lately. Greta Thunberg’s famous speech at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, David Attenborough’s message in his 2020 documentary ‘A life on our planet’ and the foundation of Leonardo DiCaprio that is committed to protecting the world’s ecosystems; these are all well-known examples of how environmentalists have tried to raise awareness about climate change and the need to sustain our planet.
In 2015, the United Nations (UN) introduced the seventeen sustainable development goals (SDG). These global goals, intended to be achieved by 2030, were created to safeguard a better and more sustainable future for all. (1) SDG 13 covers global warming and aims to take immediate action to battle climate change and the impact it has on the earth. Since the establishment of these goals, some actions have been taken, however the 2020 SDG report stated that, currently, the world is way off track in meeting the targets that were set a few years ago. (2)
Now, imagine it is the year 2050. Despite the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 °C, no meaningful actions were taken to combat climate change. The world has changed a lot over the years and will be three degrees warmer by 2100. Before you go outside you check your phone to see what the air quality is like today. The air pollution is high so you must wear a face mask. Once outside, the first thing you notice is the hot, heavy air. It is around 40 °C and, along with the humid air, it makes you feel unwell. You notice your body is struggling to keep its temperature around 37 °C, so you decide it is better to go inside again.
You turn on the television to listen to the news. The items covered all have to do with the increasing global temperatures that the world is dealing with; extreme hurricanes, harvest failures, water shortages and mass migration issues. (3)
This story probably does not match with the way you envision your future life. However, if we continue to behave as we are doing right now, this scenario will become reality. In fact, some of these effects are already impacting our lives right now. Every year the temperatures are higher, and the news already talks about, for example, climate migration. In order to change these depressing prospects and prevent already existent effects from getting worse, rigorous actions will have to be taken in the coming years. We need to act up now!
So, what can we do about this? After all, it is our future that we are talking about. We, the current students, will have to face the consequences of today’s generation’s lousy attitudes towards the problematic increasing global temperatures. Luckily, there is still some time for change and we, students, can have a great impact if we take on this responsibility and jump into action right now. If we start making changes today, the dramatic effects of climate change can still be prevented.
The first and most important measure that should be taken to save the future is the introduction of national climate laws. Worldwide, laws are required for national action. Michael Wadleigh and Birgit van Munster are the founders of ‘Only One Earth Science’ and strive to stop the climate crisis with scientific evidence. Their aim is to inform the public with UN evidence-based facts on equitable solutions to avert socio-economic collapse of our societies; information that the global powers prefer to conceal. (4) The organization states that the laws that are required to sustain our planet rest on the principles of ‘closed mass science’ and are based on the fact that our earth is a closed system, ‘spaceship earth’. This implies that our planet will not be materially resupplied for consumption forever and that pollutions like emissions cannot be exported to other celestial bodies. Therefore, the introduction of ‘closed mass’ laws can prevent further unsustainable destruction of nature and climate change climate and protect our civilizations from collapsing.
Examples of laws that should be established would result in extracting fewer resources, using cyclical products, and cutting emissions. We might not be politicians, but citizens have the power to change things as well. There are ways to promote the introduction of climate laws and spread the knowledge on the importance of this matter. Students can get together to push for laws and increase awareness and they can even implement certain changes themselves. An example of this is the story of the citizens from a Dutch village who are working to make their own town climate neutral. (5) Another great example is an initiative called ‘Jong RES’, which promotes students getting together for implementations of sustainable transitions. The goal of this organization is to have youth representatives in all Regional Energy Strategies (RES), to make sure that the voices and interests of this generation are heard. (6)
It is important that students take the lead in the battle and create a network of support. By being well informed on climate change, spreading your knowledge to others and participating in climate actions, students can have a great impact. The bigger our network, the greater our power and the sooner politicians cannot neglect us any longer; laws will need to be introduced.
While we pressure our governments, we do not sit on our hands watching the world go by. There are multiple ways that lead to Rome. All big chances start with small steps. There are many ways to live more environmentally friendly and become more sustainable. For example, by creating awareness and designing tools to help other people. Previous research showed that people assume that others do not believe in climate change and that this allows them to do nothing about it. (7,8) The reality proves otherwise as the vast majority of people do believe in climate change (in some countries this is over 90%). (9) Showing other people that you also care about global warming and that you think about environmental problems as well as the solutions, will help to defeat this misconception and motivate others around you to act sustainably too.
People should not forget what a great impact they can have as an individual. One of the first actions you can take is changing your own behavior! What you hear in the news or on social media are often methods that cost money: invest in environmentally friendly technology, insulate your house, use green energy. These are great ways to reduce emissions but might be challenging for students as they generally cost more money. Luckily there are more ways to live sustainably that do not cost a lot of money. Below are five impactful actions that everyone can take to live a more sustainable life and therefore protect their future.
- Avoid buying (new) things: Repair, rent or buy second-hand electronics, furniture, and clothes. When you start buying less, you indirectly use less energy and emit less CO2, as products do not have to be created anymore.
- Eat more sustainable: Start buying seasonal and local products to limit the transportation that is necessary to get the groceries to the shops and (super)markets. More importantly, try to introduce more vegetarian and plant-based foods in your die t as m eat and dairy have a significant impact on emissions. (10)
- Use green transportation: Travel mostly by train, bike, or foot and avoid taking the bus, plane, or car as much as possible as these ways add to greenhouse emissions.
- Save energy: While solar panels and insulating your house might be a bit too expensive for students, there are other ways to save energy. For example, do not use outdoor heaters but dress warmly/ use blankets, start using LED lights and switch to a green energy provider.
- Limit your plastic consumption: Plastic not only causes massive pollution but also contributes to climate change. The COVID pandemic caused a huge increase in the use of disposable gloves and masks. When you are not at high risk, you can use re-usable fabric masks. Instead of buying a plastic grocery bag every time you go shopping, bring your own reusable bag. Do the same for cups/ bottles. Some shops and bars even give you a discount when you bring your own cup. Do not buy water in plastic bottles, fill your own re-usable flask. Another tip is to avoid synthetic clothes as they release a large amount of microplastics when washed. (11)
Live by these tips and you are already one step further in making the world a more sustainable place. Often heard misconceptions about ‘going green’ and taking the responsibility for your own future are for example that you can never enjoy a nice meal anymore, or always must avoid traveling by car. If this was the case, it would be very difficult to live your life and maintain your sustainable behavior. Living eco-friendly is all about balance; too much of a good thing is never good. Keep these tips in mind and aim to live responsibly most of the time; that way you are more likely to keep up the green lifestyle. The famous ‘Zero Waste Chef’ Anne Marie Bonneau said: ‘We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.’ (12)
Ultimately, students can have the greatest impact on our future when we educate ourselves, speak up, and create a great network of support. We should opt for national laws being implemented as this is the only way to get our nations as a whole to take sufficient action. The moment of change has come now. The future is literally in our hands. We, students, are the next generation, and we need to take the lead in safeguarding what lays ahead for our planet. While lifestyle changes alone won’t stop climate change, when we start with ourselves, by for instance implementing the tips provided above, wecan set the example and have enormous impacts on the planet and others around us. Thus, let’s join forces, take our responsibility, and start now to save our future!
- United Nations (2017) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 6 July 2017, Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (A/RES/71/313 Archived 28 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine)
- Division U. SDG Indicators [Internet]. Unstats.un.org. 2021. Available from: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/goal-13/
- Figueres C. How the World Will Look in 2050 if We Don't Tackle Climate Change [Internet]. Time. 2021. Available from: https://time.com/5824295/climate-change-future-possibilities/
- Wadleigh M, van Munster B. Contradicting Presidents, stopping global collapse with evidence. [Internet]. 2021;. Available from: http://OnlyOneEarth.science
- Coöperatie Wijnjewoude Energie Neutraal [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://www.wen.frl/
- Jong RES Nederland [Internet]. Jongres.nl. 2021. Available from: https://jongres.nl/
- Mildenberger M, Tingley D. Beliefs about Climate Beliefs: The Importance of Second-Order Opinions for Climate Politics [Internet]. Scholar.harvard.edu. 2017. Available from: https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/dtingley/files/mildenbergertingley_bjps.pdf
- Ballew M, Gustafson A. Americans Underestimate How Many Others in the U.S. Think Global Warming is Happening [Internet]. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. 2019. Available from: https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/americans-underestimate-how-many-others-in-the-u-s-think-global-warming-is-happening/
- Poortinga W, Fisher S. European Attitudes to Climate Change and Energy: Topline Results from Round 8 of the European Social Survey [Internet]. Europeansocialsurvey.org. 2018. Available from: https://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/docs/findings/ESS8_toplines_issue_9_climatechange.pdf
- Ritchie H. You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local [Internet]. Our World in Data. 2020. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/food-choice-vs-eating-local
- De Falco F. Microfiber Release to Water, Via Laundering, and to Air, via Everyday Use: A Comparison between Polyester Clothing with Differing Textile Parameters [Internet]. Pubs.acs.org. 2020. Available from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b06892
- Bonneau A. [Internet]. Sustainable Table. 2021. Available from: https://sustainabletable.org.au/10-cracking-good-ideas-for-an-ethical-easter-kid-friendly/we-dont-need-a-handful-of-people-doing-zero-waste-perfectly-we-need-millions-of-people-doing-it-imperfectly-anne-marie-bonneau-zero-waste-chef-1/#:~:text=zero%20waste%20perfectly.-,We%20need%20millions%20of%20people%20doing%20it%20imperfectly.%E2%80%9D%20Anne%20Marie,%2C%20Zero%20Waste%20Chef%20(1)
Medicine student Nina joined the UG's Master Honor's Program 'Leadership: making the difference!' this year. In collaboration with the Green Office, she wrote this master work to educate students about the importance to step up in fighting climate change.