As we hurtle into a new decade, it’s worth thinking about how our relationship with the environment has changed over the last ten years, and how the next ten years might be very different.
Following YUSU’s declaration of a climate emergency in September, university Vice-Chancellor Charlie Jeffery announced a complete divestment from the use of fossil fuels at the University of York; a long-awaited decision praised by students and staff. The process of detatching from companies dealing with and investing in fossil fuel industries will take time, but this is the first step to a cleaner, greener University. There have even been suggestions that such a significant and public commitment could prompt other universities to follow suit. By the end of the 2020s, UoY will be almost or completely operational without fossil fuels. Just a few years ago, this would have seemed improbable and highly unlikely.
In January, the University introduced the YorCup scheme, which addresses the issue of single-use products. By reusing a YorCup, not only are you saving yourself 20p every time you buy a hot drink, but also reducing the amount of waste you’re producing. This year, over 3,000 YorCups have been purchased, replacing 70,000 disposable ones, and saving staff and students over £22,000. Single-use cups are notorious for being used for ten minutes then discarded into landfill sites, unable to break down due to the way they’re made. Considering Britain’s daily average of 200 million hot drinks, there is great potential for individuals to immediately reduce their impact on the environment.
The popularity of this scheme begs the question of whether this could be expanded on campus; for example, serving takeaway food in reusable containers. Yes, some of the current packaging can be recycled, but reuse of packaging would be the most climate-friendly option and make the biggest difference. So, maybe in the future, we could see another scheme in place which would mean (after an initial cost) discounted food and less waste.
Of course, the University is a small player in the UK’s tackling of the climate crisis. Aside from parliament declaring a climate emergency in May, there are not yet any firm arrangements for significantly reducing the UK’s climate impact, which needs to change ASAP. The efficiency of whatever decision is made will, however, depend on the outcome of December’s election. The party that would seem most appropriate in this instance would be the Green party, who pledged £100bn a year until 2030, to begin to start safeguarding the environment as it is today.
So a “best case scenario” for the next decade, climate-wise, is if heavy hitters throw their support behind the cause. Thorough and widespread fossil fuel divestment, and political backing for climate causes, are all ways that top-down changes can make a measurable impact. Smaller changes and bottom-up schemes can also help implement forced change; as a result of public outcry, the EU last year voted to ban most single-use plastics by 2021. This only came about after individuals voiced their collective opinions, proving that small changes can sometimes make a big difference.
It is clear that in the next decade, bigger and bolder adjustments need to be made, by everyone. Certain reports say that we have 12 years before damage to the environment is irreversible and catastrophic. The 2020s are crucial in changing this, because the alternative just doesn’t bear thinking about.