By Thea Belton
It is easy to think that joining the climate strike this Friday, 14th February, would be pointless. Why protest in Durham when it is very unlikely that the government will notice? Does striking actually achieve anything at all? It is a common belief that as individuals we are incapable of making any progress with climate change. However, when acting together as students to make changes to one of the country’s leading universities, this is just not true.
Durham University has made noticeable adjustments in the last few years to become more eco-friendly. They have fully divested from fossil fuel extractive industries and signed a pledge to ban single-use plastics. The director of Durham Energy Institute, Professor[DB1] Jon Gluyas, has conducted extensive research on the potential of using geothermal energy and worked with MP Helen Goodman to promote this, creating an opportunity for Durham to become one of the country’s leading climate activists among universities.
However, in a report by ECO DU this year, it was revealed that Durham has failed to meet targets set in 2010 to reduce carbon emissions. With the implementation of the Carbon Management Plan, the university promised to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2014. This was not met, and the deadline was extended to 2020 with the target upgraded to a 43% reduction. By 2017, Durham University was ranking 86th out of all universities in England in terms of positive changes in carbon emissions. Despite this, the University recently refused a proposal to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2027.
This Valentine’s Day, ECO DU have organised a strike to protest Durham University’s lack of initiative in reducing carbon emissions, when all over the country universities are making decisive action towards this. Leeds Beckett University implemented a £30 million refurbishment of their student accommodation, improving the insulation of their buildings and installing LED lighting on all floors. They are now on target to achieve a 34% reduction of carbon emissions by the end of 2020. ECO DU are demanding that Durham take similar steps to make the new buildings sustainable now, rather than spending more in the future to refurbish them.
It is clear that Durham has the potential to lead innovative projects that would make it a more eco-friendly university, but has failed to follow through on many of them already. Greenspace, the committee formed to manage climate action within the university, has had huge vacancies in the management team for a significant period. Furthermore, the university has expressed a wish to make Durham “one of the most environmentally sustainable universities in the UK” as part of the Sustainability Action Plan. However, it does not seem to have met the targets set by this plan, and major positions on this committee, also remain vacant.
ECO DU is a non-funded and independent group run by students attempting to hold the university accountable for their apathy towards the climate crisis. They are asking them to commit to immediate action on climate change. This includes adopting the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, developing a comprehensive plan to achieve the net decarbonisation of the University campus and estate, starting a compost collection in colleges, implementing the Sustainable Travel Plan by 2024, and creating a compulsory talk for fresher’s week to incorporate climate-change awareness into the educational system. They aim to completely change the culture of the university so that environmental consciousness becomes part of its identity.
These are just some of the reasons why striking on Friday alongside the local school students, who have been striking every month for a year now, can make a difference. The climate strike will be happening as part of a national action this Friday outside the Bill Bryson library at 11.30 a.m. Everyone is welcome and so far 14 societies have committed to attend. The aim is to show the University there is a mandate for the necessary changes that need to be introduced.
To be successful, the strike needs as many people as possible, rather than just the usual suspects. As students we have the power to transform our society by starting locally and forcing our university to prioritise climate change. Our government moves with agonizing sluggishness, let us not allow our university to do the same.
Photography: ECO DU via Facebook