Richard Smith: Don’t look up. Look inwards and outwards.
Heard the one about the comet hurtling towards Earth but no one cares? Quite possibly you have. Don’t Look Up, now streaming on Netflix, has become that rarest of things: a film or programme about climate change that’s both got people talking and doesn’t feature Sir David Attenborough.
People I’ve spoken to are split on Don’t Look Up. Some say it’s great that it satirises our collective indifference to global catastrophe and gives voice to the despair felt by scientists and environmentalists as they try to get their voices heard. Others say it raises the issue and a few laughs while failing to inspire action.
I’ll be honest: I’ve not yet seen it. Quite possibly both perspectives are right.
But actions to fight climate change, both large and small, are most definitely what we need. How many actions? We’ve pinned our hopes on precisely 50,000. In 2016 my colleagues in the Environmental Sustainability Team created 10,000 Actions, an award-winning platform which encouraged staff to commit to doing something to fight climate change. In 2022 we’ve upped the stakes considerably and are hoping that the combined might of our students and staff will achieve five times the impact of the original.
Stop reading this right now and go to 50,000 Actions to log your commitments. We guarantee there will be many things that you can pledge to achieve to make the world a better place.
Still reading? Fine, visit the website in a couple of paragraphs or so, because here’s a little on the kind of action you can expect on climate from our University centrally this year.
In 2019 our University committed to achieving zero carbon emissions by 2038 and within our carbon budget – that is, our fair share of the remaining carbon which can be emitted if we want to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees. This is no small task but the time to deliver is now. For the past few months we’ve been working on exactly how we’re going to achieve this. It won’t be easy and it will be a significant financial investment, but we are committed and we intend to share more detail on what we’re going to do as soon as we can – beginning with an invitation to all colleagues to join an online discussion on how we will achieve our goal on Thursday, 27 January, noon – 1pm.
We’re also working on a new Environmental Sustainability strategy which will reflect all our work in this area, including teaching and learning, research, partnerships and operations.
So, I hope, this will be the year we ramp up efforts to slow down or even deflect that comet (the metaphor only works so far I think).
There’s no question that the impact of our University becoming zero carbon will outweigh whatever planet-friendly efforts any of us can make as individuals. That doesn’t alter the fact that we need change everywhere, both individually and corporately. So please, don’t look up at the fictional comet or down at your feet. Look inward to see what you can do yourself and outwards to how you can inspire, lead the change and hold others (including the University) to account.
And then log whatever you’ve decided at 50,000 Actions.
Richard Smith, Head of Environmental Sustainability