Climate change isn’t a far-fetched deal-with-it-later issue anymore. Sea levels are rising at alarming rates, wildfires are raging more often and temperatures are skyrocketing, causing extreme heat waves throughout California.
The gravity of the situation has prompted the UC system to declare a climate emergency, which includes increasing “action-oriented climate research” and “achieving carbon neutrality.” It’s encouraging to see that commitment in writing. As a university system with a plethora of renowned research, we can draw much-needed national attention.
The university also announced that it would completely divest from fossil fuels, effective immediately. That divestment, however, wasn’t primarily motivated by concern for the environment — in fact, the university cited “financial” benefits as its reasoning for proceeding with divestment. Sure, there are economic benefits to investing that money elsewhere, such as renewable energy technology, but money shouldn’t be the main driver of divestment. The UC system alone can’t solve climate change, but it’s a major stakeholder in the state’s future, which moving forward means putting environmental protection at the forefront of policies.
Here at UC Berkeley, we still have work to do. When it comes to sustainability initiatives, campus simply hasn’t been aggressive enough in holding itself to those targets. Reaching zero waste by 2020 is nowhere near achievable at this point, and UC Berkeley is consistently ranked lowest of all the UC campuses when it comes to eliminating waste. We were supposed to have diverted nearly 100 percent of our waste by this point — as of 2018, UC Berkeley had only reached a 54 percent waste diversion rate. Given how much it has talked about its zero waste by 2020 goal, the results are abysmal.
The issue is perpetuated by green washing, which means making misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a practice. Those “compostable” utensils that you grab with your lunch? They’re really not compostable at all: They’re made of plastic, so they take forever to decompose and are even considered a hindrance to waste management processes. It’s time for campus and the university at large to revisit these supposedly positive initiatives.
Considering we’re going to face the brunt of the adverse environmental effects, it’s no surprise that campus students are leading the charge to mitigate climate change. UC Berkeley itself does a thorough job of training the next generation of environmental activists, given that our campus is chock-full of environmental research and sustainability curriculum. Every semester, students can take a variety of DeCals on sustainability or get involved with one of UC Berkeley’s many environmentally focused student organizations.
Today’s climate strike is yet another example of how students rise to the occasion when institutional action falls short. Climate change will most directly impact our generation and those who come after us. It’s imperative that the university system makes good on its promise to find and implement real solutions.