Step 1 of “collective effort”: Addressing the need of a new mindset to deliver a sustainable future
Ms Aliza Ayaz
The sustainability movement (spanning campaigners, citizens, community groups, policy makers, investors, and business) has achieved a lot in recent years. It has helped mainstream renewables, which less than a decade ago was derided as niche, expensive and irrelevant to a future global energy system. How that has changed.
Plastics have become the ‘poster child’ of an unsustainable, consumption led, throwaway society. Diet (and all the wellbeing, climatic, waste and biodiversity issues associated with it) is finally getting deserved attention. And the risks of modern day slavery (45 million) are much better understood today.
But, we are still heading for a 3C+ world; 8 million tonnes of plastic is still entering the oceans every year; soil is being lost at the rate of 36 billion tonnes pa. Twenty six billionaires still control more wealth than 3.8 billion people. The mass of insects on the planet is declining precipitously by 2.5% pa.
Climate change induced migration is growing with potentially 200 million people on the move by 2050 inflicting untold misery for individuals and insecurity for nations; deforestation is on the rise again in key areas like the Amazon, where deforestation has just reached a 10 year high; whilst 2 billion people eat too much, 1 billion too little.
It was interesting to see the latest Davos gathering of the World Economic Forum looking a little nervously down the mountainside at the sustainability ‘swirl’ below. A slow dawning that the current economic paradigm is not just ‘rough at the edges’ but has systemic and potentially existential flaws baked into it.
It’s easy for the sustainability movement to shout louder at ‘everyone else’ – run your business differently, introduce a law, consume less – and no one is wrong for doing this, we really are running out of time on so many issues. But let’s also look inwards and ask ourselves why when the inadequacies and risks of today’s educational and economic structures are so obvious to us, do so many people and institutions plough on, lemming like towards the cliff edge?
Now in the past it could be said the sustainability movement was great at highlighting in broad headlines all that’s wrong with our way of life, less good at really unpicking the root causes and doing something realistic about them.
That is a harder allegation to make today. Several reports issued recently have delved deeply into not just the science of impact but also offer a better understanding of how our way of life causes them and crucially proposes broad pathways to correct them. For example, new signature campaigns at Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and LSE - world renowned universities: The Big Switch, Wild Bloomsbury, Positive Climate and ‘The Loop’. These campaigns provide an initial focus for bringing together teaching, research and operations to tackle social and environmental challenges.
Some examples of our priority actions for universities and schools could be: Review event catering to reduce food waste and expand existing waste food redistribution schemes by 2021. Another example is to introduce sustainability ratings for products on the e-market place and canteens by 2021.
It seemed that despite the scientific evidence of harm being compelling and a route forward to a sustainable future being mapped on paper, we didn’t have enough pace and scale in making sustainable change happen. Many individual products, brands, companies, cities etc are getting better but they remained, in the grand scheme of things, individual, isolated examples. We need the whole institution, the economy, and the whole of society to change and do it fast.
This is where the new manifesto introduces a new mindset, one that recognises it’s not enough to study, campaign and plan, we need to engage everyone in the imperative for and opportunity of sustainable change.
Fundamentally it’s about relevance. Relevance to people’s lives. Relevance to them as students, staff, citizens, consumers, parents and partners, neighbours and colleagues, voters and investors. And we are achieving that. Slowly, but surely.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Aliza Ayaz is the Executive Chairperson of the Climate Action Society (CAS), the leading student organisation and sustainability consulting service working for UN SDG13 that she founded in 2018. CAS helps individuals, students, professionals, corporations, and politicians to brainstorm a broad range of awareness, adaptation, and mitigation strategies for climate change. She is the United Nations Youth Envoy for Climate Action.