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How much do Warwick students really care about climate change?

The climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues of our generation. But how much do Warwick students care about climate change? Who do they think is most responsible for tackling the issue? How well is the university responding to the climate emergency? The Boar launched an investigation to find out more.

A survey conducted by The Boar found that 94%* of Warwick students viewed climate change as either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ important, with 77% of all respondents deeming it ‘very important’. However, 66% of those surveyed and said that they were not a member of any climate societies at Warwick and 79% said that they were not a member of any external environmental organisations.

Amy Holliday, a second-year History student at Warwick, described climate change as “very important” to her personally, due to “the immediacy of the issue”. She stressed that it is vital to continue to make saving the environment a priority, even whilst dealing with other pressing issues such as COVID-19.

However, Amy also mentioned that university life makes it “easy for students to forget the importance of climate change”. She suggested that the vast number of clubs and societies at Warwick detract attention from smaller sustainable groups on campus.

“When you arrive at university, you are thinking about so many different societies: ones that are relevant to your course; where you think you might meet like-minded people; new things to try; maintaining your current hobbies; sports; the list is endless really”.

94%* of Warwick students viewed climate change as either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ important

Amy went on to add that “if campaigning to fight climate change isn’t already your hobby”, then becoming a member of a sustainable society might not be a top priority. This, she says, is the “main reason I’m not part of one at the moment”.

While 74% of survey respondents claimed to have previously taken action against climate change, 66% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that individuals are not doing enough to tackle the issue. 

Charlotte Crabtree, a third-year English and History student, has recently made some lifestyle changes to reduce the environmental impact she has on the planet. “I became pescatarian in January and try to invest in sustainable fashion. I try not to shop straight from the shops themselves online and look to see if anyone has it on Depop first”.

When asked whether the student body is actively tackling climate change, Charlotte said: “I’ve got a lot of friends that are anxious about the environment. I know many people that will make changes in their private lives, but I think it needs to be integrated into the university as a union as well.”

“I would like to see people in positions of authority that are advocating for climate change”

– Charlotte Crabtree

Charlotte told The Boar: “I would like to see more people in positions of authority that are advocating for climate change. I am quite passionate about it, but I don’t actually know that much in terms of the statistics – so if we had more people that knew exactly what they were talking about, that would be very good.”

Both Charlotte and Amy were unaware that the University of Warwick has Environment and Ethics Student Officers. “I had no idea”, said Amy, “I feel like that is not one of the roles that are largely advertised. You see the manifestos, people running for president, disability, welfare, societies, sports”. The Boar reached out to the Environment and Ethics Student Officers for comment but received no response.

An anonymous source told The Boar Climate: “In my mind, actively tackling climate change means being ahead of the curve with it. In that respect, I don’t think the SU is doing as much as it could.”

They have been vegan since joining the University of Warwick in 2018, stating that “it was something that I always had in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until university that I became more active and engaged in the discourse of it.”

They added: “One of the things that people don’t realise about climate change is that it’s not just an animal rights issue, it’s a human rights issue. I live in Bristol, and if climate change continues as it’s going, I’m going to be underwater in about 50 years.”

When asked whether the university could do more to improve their sustainability, they said: “You can see throughout the university and societies on campus that a lot of them are taking money from companies that are contributing heavily to climate change.” They added: “when you are in cahoots with businesses that expect Warwick to produce graduates for them, who are also contributing to climate change, then that’s a real problem.” 

Over 45% of those surveyed either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that the University of Warwick is actively tackling climate change, with a further 41% answering they were unsure.

In terms of increasing sustainability on campus, the source argued  that “there are obviously limitations to what SU outlets can do. When you have things like circling going on, that is inevitably going to leave a lot of plastic lying around. So, I guess that is a necessary, unsustainable evil. The next step, of course, would be to make the cups bio-degradable.”

According to them, the highest-selling item on the menu at the Dirty Duck is the classic burger. However, they said that “while the management staff still bring in beef, they make an effort to buy from farms that are not the absolute worst when it comes to sustainability”.

The student body must show a united front against climate change

Another problem that they have experienced whilst working at the Dirty Duck is the amount of food waste produced by Warwick students. “The food waste that students leave is appalling, and the Duck doesn’t do takeaway boxes, so it ends up having to be thrown away.” They added: “If you are going to pollute the environment, at least make use of the pollution you have created.”

While almost 25% of respondents thought that media coverage of climate change is alarmist, James  believes that The Boar must act as “the voice of students on campus” and continue to challenge “any power structure that is not actively tackling climate change”.

In response to the question: “Who do you think is most responsible for tackling climate change?”, 40% of those surveyed thought it was large companies or businesses. A further 30% thought it was the national government, and nearly 10% thought it was up to international organisations to tackle the issue.

Manpreet Kaur, a Postgraduate student in Chemistry argues that the national government is most responsible for tackling climate change as “they are the ones who can introduce policies which will induce the behaviour change that we desperately need”.

Manpreet considers the issue of climate change to be more of a scientific problem than a political one. “This is something I get very angry about because climate change is not a political issue at all. It is not about whether you are right-wing or left-wing, it is going to screw you up either way. With the rise in temperatures, zoonotic diseases like Covid are going to spread more and more, and pandemics are going to become more frequent. With that in mind, if the government cares about the state of the economy then they should also care about climate change”.

When asked why the issue of climate change is very important to her personally, Manpreet said: “I have become more interested in climate change the more I study science as you cannot have science without nature. We study the natural world, but we are ruining it at the same time. It is very problematic.”

However, Manpreet insists that studying a scientific degree isn’t the only reason why someone should care about climate change. “I think the answer is quite philosophical. It depends on how much you as a human being care about the environment you live in. There are people who think deeply enough to recognise the issue and there are some who don’t want to have to worry about it.”

Overall, 94.2% of those surveyed thought that something could be done to tackle climate change. Claiming to be an eternal optimist, Manpreet believes that “if you look at the science, it’s not quite beyond us as yet. We still have time. If you implement everything the scientists tell you to implement you can get the outcome you want. I know that 2020 has been a tough year (to put it mildly) but we can still turn it around.”

It is clear that the majority of students at the University of Warwick care to some extent about the future of our planet. However, there is a general lack of awareness about how the university as an institution is tackling climate change. The Sustainability and Ethics section of the student union is also lacking in publicity, preventing any long-term behaviour changes in the student body. 

Finally, if students continue to view the issue of climate change as an inherently political issue, to be dealt with solely by higher powers, then individual action is unlikely. Overall, the student body must show a united front against climate change, working alongside the institution to implement policies that will protect the planet long after we graduate.

*Survey of 103 Warwick students

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