Reusable coffee cups won’t save the Earth

I’ve noticed that recently a lot of students have started becoming more environmentally conscious and hopping on the sustainability bandwagon. Using reusable coffee cups and water bottles, opting for a tote bag instead of a plastic one, and not using plastic straws are all becoming trendy lifestyle choices. Whilst it’s great that more people are taking an interest in reducing their environmental footprint, the planet is running out of time, and these small changes are not enough to save it. The IPCC report states that we must limit climate change to 2°C warming to avoid irreversible changes, which will require rapid, widespread systemic change as well as individual incremental actions. We will be the generation that has to face the consequences of climate change above 2°C.

Photo: Lauren Bialkowski

Don’t get me wrong, the small things do matter too, just because they only have a relatively small impact doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing. If the entire population made these small changes it would collectively make a big difference. However, my issue is with people using these actions as justification that they’re doing enough, when in reality sharing a petition to ban plastic straws on Facebook isn’t exactly going to save the world. I’m 100% guilty of this too, having previously campaigned and written blog posts about these issues. I don’t want to dissuade anyone who’s interested in getting involved in the environmental movement, that isn’t my intention. The aim of this post is to make people aware of the bigger picture. We need to put more pressure on governments and industries if we want to see real, meaningful change.

As you learn more about the devastating impacts of climate change, it’s easy to lose hope. So what are some of the ways you can easily make a difference as a student? You can lobby politicians, businesses and the University to prioritise sustainability issues. For example, many products are impossible to find completely plastic free, and plastic free alternatives can often be more expensive. As students with a tight budget it isn’t always realistically feasible to opt for the more sustainable option. Instead of not buying these items, you could potentially have a bigger impact and make sustainable low waste living more accessible by contacting companies to let them know you’d rather see a package free alternative. The companies who create products with unnecessary packaging are the ones ultimately responsible, and they have the power to prevent waste at the source. They listen to customer feedback, so make your voice heard.

Within uni, the University’s Sustainability Committee recently held a workshop to give students the chance to have their say on the university’s sustainability strategy. Getting involved in events like this show the university that students do care, putting pressure on them to introduce more environmentally friendly practices.

Another major change which many people are reluctant to do is to eat less meat and dairy. The animal agriculture industry has a massive detrimental impact on the environment, and is responsible for around 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the exhaust emissions from all transportation combined. Whilst completely changing your diet overnight can be daunting, making a few small changes to gradually reduce your consumption can have a massive difference. Not to mention a plant-based diet can be cheaper and much healthier!

Of course, this is only a small selection of ideas to reduce your impact and be a more sustainable student, but I hope it’s sparked your interest to do more for this planet before it’s too late. This means not only trying to reduce our own consumption, but also mobilising against the system that promotes mass consumption and a throwaway ideology. Ultimately, climate change requires the entire system to change.

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