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Anyone following the news would be forgiven for not being particularly optimistic about the future of our environment. Reports of melting ice sheets, temperature records being smashed, and Wales-sized losses to rainforests routinely dominate our screens. Although events like the Paris climate agreement offer periods of relief, these are too often short-lived, being rapidly overshadowed by events such as the political ascendency of a devout climate change denier. Accompanying this seemingly omnipresent negativity is an unavoidable question – what’s the point anymore? If all our well-intentioned efforts are simply going to be scratched out by a business world that burns fossil fuels for fun, why do we bother? Whilst planning Green Lancaster Week this year I’ve been constantly asking myself this question. Can this week represent something more than a tokenistic tip of the hat to a bygone period of environmentalism? After much thought I’ve come to the conclusion that it can actually help deliver change.
As any history student will tell you, understanding the present relies heavily on looking at the past. Dating back as early as the 13th century, student-led activism is nearly as old as universities themselves, and has played no small part in moulding modern-day history. Whether it’s the US withdrawal from Vietnam or the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, student protests have been a key driving force of change. Now I’m not saying that the function of Green Lancaster Week is to ignite a series of nationwide protests in defence of Mother Earth. However, what it does try to deliver is events which raise awareness of specific environmental issues and provide a space where like-minded people can meet. From this, who knows what can happen? Platforms such as ‘change.org’ have shown that you don’t even to leave your bed to change the world, and for those seeking a bit more of a ‘hands-on’ experience there’s plenty of groups in Lancaster and the surrounding area to get involved in.
Another purpose I believe Green Lancaster Week fulfils is that it showcases just how diverse the ‘green’ field can actually be. Like any topic there are invariably aspects of environmentalism and sustainable living that people find more engaging than others. I know for me there are certainly areas that I often find a little dull, but that’s fine. What the week aims to do is to bring together a broad enough array of events that regardless where your interests lie, you’ll find something fun to get involved in. By doing this, it promotes the inclusive idea that we can all have a little of slice of environmentalism in our lives, no matter how we spend our free time. Hell you don’t even need to care in the slightest about the future of the Earth, but if you’re partial to say a clothes-swap or a photography competition you’ll definitely find an event you can enjoy during the week.
Finally, I know it’s a cliché to say but the future is ours to shape. Chances are the sheet of paper you receive at the end of your stint at Lancaster will help you progress faster and further up the career ladder, potentially into a job where you get to make decisions that shape society. I’m not suggesting that you won’t have certain pressures acting on you when you’re making these decisions, yet you’ll likely get some degree of autonomy. Now rewind to your university days – Green Lancaster are making a big song and dance about a week dedicated solely to environmental events. You may choose to completely ignore it or alternatively you may get involved a little, learning whilst you do so about future environmental challenges. Returning to your future self, this fledging of concern for those problems may have long since left the nest. However, it may be still with you, ready to be incorporated into decisions that you make. Our time at university is so often key in shaping our choices in later life, and with pretty much every decision made having an environmental consequence, there’s no chance that Green Lancaster will be giving up the ghost anytime soon.
Undoubtedly, the world of environmentalism is going through bleak times right now. However, this doesn’t need to mean we have to slip into a mind-set of futility – the future of the environment is still malleable. We can all in embrace the environmentalist within us and look at the way we live our lives. We can even push for wider changes in society or if we’re lucky enough we can be at the helm of these changes. And within this, what role does Green Lancaster Week play? Will the event prove to be the catalyst in transforming the way we view socio-environmental relations? Definitely not. Could it encourage slight changes in the way we live our lives which in turn result in incremental progress? Potentially. And until this hope is extinguished I’m confident that Green Lancaster Week will always occupy an important role at our university as we race towards what will undoubtedly be an uncertain future.
Harry Meaden (Green Lancaster Student Engagement Team Member)