A climate change denier sits in the Oval Office, so what’s the point?

A recycling bin with the Glasgow University Library in the distance

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Alexandra Lyttel

Jo Reid
Writer

Glasgow University continues to score poorly on the environment but if the United States isn’t doing anything about it, does it matter if we don’t?

Global Warming is one of those problems that is not going to go away. We are no longer asking ‘”how can we stop global warming”, but rather, “how can we mitigate the existing damage?” We must reduce, reuse, recycle, shop responsibly, and make sure we switch off the lights when leaving the house. There is a lot we can do to try and prevent the
worst, and only if we work together can we help the environment. But how much can the average person do? One extra tin can going to a landfill instead of going to be recycled is not going to make much of a difference when companies are dumping vast amounts of waste, and a climate change denier sits in the White House.

The University of Glasgow recently ranked poorly in eco-friendliness by People and Planet, an Oxford-based environmental campaign group. It was the lowest of all the Russell Group universities in the UK, ranking 129th out of 150 universities. But does that even matter? Is there anything the University can actually do to make a meaningful change to the environment? Glasgow University pledged to fully divest from fossil fuel industries in 2015, a move that was positively received by climate activists, but it is a move that could be regarded as nothing but a puff of fresh air amidst a sky of smothering smog. Should we be concerned with Glasgow’s low rating, or just accept that it is a futile waste of time for a single institution to commit to environmental sustainability?

Donald Trump’s announcement of the US’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement is a telling symbol of the establishment’s attitudes towards climate change. The Paris Agreement seeks to unite the world into combating global warming, with each country determining how it contributes to the mitigation of climate change. By rejecting the Paris Agreement, the US government has decided to stand against undoing the damage caused to the environment. It is not solely the rejection of the climate accord that should be considered either. The infamous construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) caused clashes at Standing Rock between police and protesters last year. The laying of an industrial pipe at the expense of the Missouri river, and the indigenous people who depended on it, evidenced another cold shoulder to environmental causes, in favour of short-term profits.

This disregard for the environment isn’t just limited to the USA either, as a recent study by the Carbon Majors Report found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. BP PLC was the 11th biggest polluter, responsible for 1.53% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

However, one clear issue is that those who pollute the most often aren’t directly affected and it can therefore be easy to dismiss the importance of climate change. Those who feel the impact of global warming tend to live in economically deprived areas and countries, or in the Global South. For example, many islands in the pacific are directly at risk of flooding, with their homes regularly being completely submerged. The Marshall Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are constantly at risk from a rise in sea levels. Already, high tides and frequent storms threaten the local people, and their underwater supply of fresh water has been corrupted by the entry of seawater. The Marshall Islands have asked for international aid to help their dire situation, and there have been calls to hold the United States responsible for the effects of being the largest polluter of carbon dioxide.

Similarly, the rising global temperatures are leading to the Arctic melting. Normally, the poster image for the melting ice caps is the cute polar bear, but people are suffering as a result too. Communities that depend on the environment to survive are now at risk.

Inuit communities survive on hunting, and the rise in global temperatures is causing certain species to decline or even become extinct, destroying a precious resource. Similarly, many Arctic communities use frozen roadways for transportation of both people and supplies. The reduction of sea ice is changing the Arctic landscape, harming the people that live there. These countries and communities are shouldering the consequences of much wealthier nations’ actions, so how can the University of Glasgow hope to make any difference when we are so far down the line and up against polluting giants?

When asked about their environmental record and how they intend to improve, a spokesperson for the University of Glasgow replied, ‘the University is committed to providing the most environmentally friendly and carbon neutral campus possible and these principles are wholly embedded in our plans to develop Gilmorehill and the Western Infirmary site. Many of our current buildings are extremely old and whilst we continue to do all that we can to improve efficiency this is not always easy. Within the course of the next few years as the redevelopment gathers pace we believe that the University of Glasgow will be marked out as one of the greenest and most sustainable institutions in the country.’ They went on to add, ‘the major investment in the Central Heating Project system was the start of this work and in June 2017, Court approved the infrastructure proposals, which includes significant investment in sustainable systems and landscaping. All of this does take time to deliver.’

Though clearly managing expectations, the University seems to be moving in the right direction, with their divestment from fossil fuels and the aforementioned Central Heating Project, but it is crucial that the University continues to work quickly to reduce its carbon footprint. In the People and Planet report, Glasgow University scored 0 in carbon reduction, having failed to achieve a -6.20% reduction in its carbon emissions since 2005.

Yes, we cannot compete with the massive corporations creating millions of
tons of waste, but we can tell them that this is unacceptable. A way to do this is to lead
by example. If Glasgow University works to lower its carbon footprint, not only will a
some damage be undone, but it will also show that it is possible to be a successful
institution that prioritises the environment. As the People and Planet report has shown
us, it is not enough to just divest from fossil fuels, we have to keep going, making both
big and small changes to reduce our impact on the environment.

Similarly, the rejection of the Paris Agreement by Donald Trump is not a sign for us to give up on it altogether. For one thing, it does not mean that the US will immediately withdraw – the agreement has a time delay, so they cannot actually leave until 2020. USA is just one country (albeit a very big one) out of 175. Similarly, countries such as Germany, France, Italy and China have condemned the US’s actions, suggesting that the other countries in the Paris Agreement will continue to work towards hitting its goals, with or without America.

It may sound over-dramatic, but the world, the environment, and our future are at risk
from climate change, and even if we in Glasgow aren’t feeling the direct effects of it, others around the world are. It may feel hopeless, with massive corporations pumping out carbon emissions and Donald Trump taking America out of the Paris Agreement, but that shouldn’t mean we give up. We cannot demand change without making those sacrifices ourselves. It is our collective responsibility to do as much as we can, from reducing waste to protesting companies who over-pollute. Big and small changes to reduce our carbon footprint make a difference, and we need to do both. Glasgow University likes to advertise itself with ‘World Changers Welcome’, but currently the University is doing little to help sustain the world, nevermind change it.