Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely found it impossible to avoid Blue Planet II. Nowhere else is the beauty of the natural world as apparent as in our oceans, and the theatrics 1000 feet below the surface often uncannily mirror the dramas of our own day-to-day lives. We pick sides, and become entirely invested in the fate of a single octopus. All that serves to make the sucker punch, when it comes, all the more gut-wrenching. This stunning tapestry of life and colour faces an existential risk, and we’d really rather not talk about it: climate change.
When it comes to climate change, I used to do what most people would – I ignored it as best I could. The whole thing was too overpowering, and it’s often hard to know where to start. As a fresher, though, I took a chance on joining the Environmental Society. Had I not gone to that first meeting, I’d probably have carried on as before, having unconsciously constructed a life that didn’t really leave space for caring about climate change.
It’s easy to see why we’d like to ignore climate change; after all, it’s hardly a cheery subject. There’s growing evidence of the toll that climate change takes on our mental health, even disregarding its physical effects on the globe. A 2009 report found that Americans are already suffering a “pre-traumatic stress disorder” due to the burden of climate change on their minds; the effect is even worse among scientists in the field. Reluctance to think about such a painful topic is pretty understandable.
The other key is the fact that I was even able to ignore climate change at all. Part of this is that the famously unreliable British weather is actually reliably dull by global standards. While other countries are already feeling the impact of stronger hurricanes and prolonged summer droughts, the UK is likely to escape the worst effects.
“A good first step for the College would be to remove its dirty investments in some of the most unethical and unscientific industries”
The cruel irony of climate change is that the first to suffer are often the least-equipped to cope. The recent COP23 summit in Bonn – the largest international gathering to take action against climate change – was presided over by the government of Fiji. The tiny island-nation was unable to afford even to host the conference on climate change; how on Earth is it supposed to afford to protect itself against the actual thing? Having contributed approximately zero to the problem, and lacking any infrastructure to deal with it, Fiji and other Pacific island nations will nevertheless pay the price for the lethargy of developed countries. We can only afford to ignore the problem at home because somebody else can’t in theirs.
So what do we do? We have a choice. One option is to trust politicians and big business to sort things out, two groups that can always be relied upon to act in humanity’s best interests. The other option is that we try to make a difference ourselves. No one person can do it alone; what’s needed is a collective effort. Put pressure on things that are within your power to change, and remember that something is always better than nothing.
One thing we all share is Imperial – the clean, green, hi-tech university that recently came 141st in People & Planet’s league table of the UK’s greenest universities. We can do better, and as students we should demand that we do better. A good first step for the College would be to remove its dirty investments in some of the planet’s most unethical and unscientific industries, the very same ones gleefully paving the way towards climate catastrophe. Divestment sets an example for society to follow, and we can applaud the example our own Union set by voting to remove its funds from fossil fuels. College’s reluctance to follow suit is scandalous, and it’s up to us to force their hand. If we don’t, we risk throwing away all we’ve ever known: the blue planet we call home.