/ University of Bristol declares climate emergency
I am so proud of my University for declaring a climate emergency, as part of the many things we are doing to help tackling what is an accelerating global biosphere catastrophe.
More info here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2019/april/climate-emergency-.html
Carbon neutral. Do they plan to close and go virtual?
Well done Bristol. In my view a far more constructive approach than blocking roads. I hope that they share what they do as widely as possible in order that others may follow their lead.
No. The University's relevant pledges are here: http://www.bris.ac.uk/green/pledges/
Carbon neutrality in the pledges refers to the functioning of the campus: the University is mainly focused on reducing its carbon emissions. Technical detail here: http://www.bris.ac.uk/media-library/sites/green/documents/policy/Carbon%20&%20Water%20Strategy%202017-11-01.pdf
The big carbon issue the University has to do much more on relates to flying. We, like like many others, are trying to work through how to make the transition, and make it as quickly as possible
I see both as part of the wider process of getting across that this is a massive emergency now.
And yes we will be working hard to promote similar action and also to improve what we do.
I wonder if organisations who are working towards being carbon neutral can collaborate and share knowledge. Having some sort of organisation of son sort where people can go for guidance would eliminate one of the barriers to making the changes.
I wonder what they're doing in China, the USA et al
It is an effort to raise awareness, as they don't produce anything other than knowledge it shouldnt be hard. All their pledges refer to low carbon sources not zero. How are they offsetting the carbon they do use.
What about where the students live off site? Student travel to there?
Virtual classrooms for all none physical topics. If the open university functions admirably, how many weeks a year do some (not all) actually need to sit in lectures for.
The whole country can't opt in to use green electricity!? Somebody will be left with the dirty power sources.
You’re right. They shouldn’t bother. Unless you can do it perfectly straight off the bat what’s the point in trying.
How does that affect what the university does?
I'm just curious to know what measure the world's biggest polluters are taking to reduce their "carbon footprint". I suspect, in comparison, SFA. I doubt that Trump wants to alienate the US gas guzzlers. China probably don't give a shit anyway.
Sure. Ask them. Why are you asking on a thread about another organisations efforts?
> You’re right. They shouldn’t bother. Unless you can do it perfectly straight off the bat what’s the point in trying.
But it's impacted is minor to say the least, what is the university's carbon footprint, compared to the students living there, travelling there etc...
If business people can have conference calls, Skype meetings etc. Plus there is an example already of a non physical university that is highly regarded, how many physical full time universities do we need per capita?
Edit. The greenest building would be the one that doesn't exist.
Hi summo. These are all valid questions and issues. My essential response is that we, like anyone else trying to take climate action, know for sure that what we are doing is not enough. If we represented it as enough, then we would justifiably be criticised for greenwashing. Indeed this is one of the fundamental problems the world faces - the transition of moving towards a low carbon infrastructure will generate huge emissions. We are grappling with these problems daily, trying to work out ways forward. e.g. I regularly refuse work-related invitations involving flying and would have previously flown to Spain to climb at Easter. What do we do about students flying to Bristol to study? Should we encourage students to study more locally? I think the answer to that is probably yes but as I say I am one of many trying to get a handle on this world, and we are starting from a terrible place.
Yes it's important to look at the big picture. The answer is very mixed - there is a huge struggle with a very uncertain outcome on whether they will transition to low carbon or not. China has moved from the position that global warming is a Western plot to hold back China, to being the biggest investor in solar power in the world. And so on. The entire future of the biosphere is on the line right now.
Good question about where people can go for guidance. There are lots of people trying all sorts of different formats - many of them aimed at particular niches e.g. banks with their new Network for Greening the Financial System. Then there are all sorts of information coordination sites such as Project Drawdown https://www.drawdown.org/. The explosion of activity in this is quite astonishing
In the USA it is not all down to the President and the fossil fuel lobby (though they have tremendous power and influence). The fact is that the market is changing under them anyway e.g. in the US existing coal power is now more expensive that installing new solar and wind https://energyinnovation.org/publication/the-coal-cost-crossover/
Renewables, led by China I think, accounts for one third of global power: https://cleantechnica.com/2019/04/03/renewable-energy-accounts-for-a-third-of-all-global-power-capacity/
The problem is trying to green an educational system that is a century behind current technology. If you start from the beginning and redesign it, as green as possible, it wouldn't look like it does.
Why have 8,9,10 weeks off in summer. Better to close for Dec and January, when heat and lighting costs are highest etc.
If we, the royal we, wish to attain real change then we need a completely new approach based on the tech and era we live in now. Not trying to make posterity environmentally friendly.
Indeed the problem is that globally we are starting from heavily-subsidised fossil fuel-based consumer capitalism. That is why the biosphere is collapsing catastrophically. Starting from somewhere else better would be lovely, but we are here and the emergency is now. Even so you are right that preventing biosphere catastrophe is not compatible with heavily-subsidised fossil fuel based consumerism. Whether it is compatible with capitalism per se I am less sure.
As for closing Uni for December and January, well maybe but you may have overall unintended negative consequences e.g. another round of flying that might not have occurred. I am not saying that you are wrong, just that we need to think where
I'd go right back to first principles. Define the goals, education, research etc.. then how many hours required in lectures, self study etc..then consider duration with say 6 weeks holiday annually. 18, 24, 30mths of uni attendance to complete bachelors.
Can first 3months be online self study etc.. or perhaps a 2 month winter recess for self study, projects, thesis etc.. Some university building use or occupancy over a year isn't exactly great. Could different courses start at different times of the year and recess at different times, so you get near 100% occupancy year round.
Maybe. We certainly need to try to find better ways of doing things and fundamental restructuring of many things will have to be part of the picture.
Maybe they should consider less unnecessarily International Travel:
Will Rolls Royce remain your main business partner?
At one level of course yes you are right - the University must do less flying. Some University staff flying to China is less flying than lots of Chinese students and family flying to Bristol for graduation. One thing we have started is live streaming graduation in Bristol. Neither of those things is enough - definitely not, and we don't think it is enough.
At another level, this kind of comment is part of the problem - the seeking out of flaws, limitations, contradictions and so on (Gotcha, you hypocrite), without any apparent constructive intent. Anyone living in this world who tries to take any climate action is still bound up with the current system that reduces the value of what they have done.
> Maybe they should consider less unnecessarily International Travel:
Maybe they need the Chinese students fees to pay the chancellor there?
> At another level, this kind of comment is part of the problem - the seeking out of flaws, limitations, contradictions and so on (Gotcha, you hypocrite), without any apparent constructive intent.
If you start a thread on a public forum saying you are proud of their green ambitions, don't be surprised if people challenge it.
Isn't that a function of degree level education? To be able to analyse, assess, research and critique data or ideas?
Hi Jim. For my generic point, see my response to FactorXXX - on the one hand a valid point and on the other hand a bit gotcha hypocrite, which is not valid as we acknowledge that what we are doing is not enough. We are starting on a structural transition. The internal fossil fuel combustion engine, whether for cars or aircraft or ships or anything else, is on its way out due to the accelerating biosphere catastrophe. Which means that companies like RR have to transform or die, and which means that places like UoB *and the rest of human society* must transform or die too. We are not kidding ourselves about this.
Indeed,which is why I have said consistently that you and others have valid points about the limitations of where we have got to so far. At that level the challenge is welcome.
But there is also a level of these comments that is not about challenge to elicit a considered reaction about - it's more a throwaway gotcha implying hypocrisy that I am challenging, analytically. In other words, I am critiquing that level of the critique
Clearly you aren't carbon neutral at present. At best you have low carbon sources etc.. I don't grasp how you plan to be neutral. Unless you buy barren land and plant forest, or something similar.
Correct, the campus is not carbon neutral. One of our goals is a carbon neutral campus by 2030 - see my earlier links. We are focusing on reducing campus emissions now - a process under way. You are correct that offsetting will be necessary, and I anticipate that funding reforestation will be a big part of it. e.g. https://e360.yale.edu/digest/planting-1-2-trillion-trees-could-cancel-out-a-decade-of-co2-emissions-scientists-find
So those Chinese students fees or UK student debt will be bankrolling the carbon neutral aspirations. Hope they know this? It might be a good selling point.
Have you had a role in this? In which case, thank you, and thanks to Bristol Uni for setting out on this path. I would ask that what you learn you share with the wider university sector and organisations more widely, both in terms of the self analysis of the organisation, mechanisms of transition and robust offsetting.
> on the one hand a valid point and on the other hand a bit gotcha hypocrite, which is not valid as we acknowledge that what we are doing is not enough.
Proudly announcing that you are flying over a "large cohort of academics and staff" to China for a jolly, 4 days before "declaring a climate emergency" seems to be more of a case of hypocrisy than acknowledging that you are not doing enough!
> Maybe they need the Chinese students fees to pay the chancellor there?
One not so distant day, that ship is going to sail.
Which is a shame because it’s not just paying VC salaries, but 20-, 30-, 40- and 50- year loans spent on new buildings...
I've just declared a ''Socks emergency' in my house. This had had no impact. I still have no socks.
It's just words.
It's really, really going to bite them on the arse
> ..........China has moved from the position that global warming is a Western plot to hold back China, to being the biggest investor in solar power in the world....
Being "biggest investor in solar power" is IMO largely beside the point. China is a massive polluter and is now greatly INCREASING the production of power through coal. You can try this article, "China coal power building boom sparks climate warning":
China is now also building plenty of coal-powered stations outside China, you can look at this article, "China-backed coal projects prompt climate change fears". The article also talks about the already well-known effect of such stations on global warming:
That is just one point I wanted to pick up on. Thank you for your other posts/ contributions
China, the University of Bristol, the entire world are all in fundamentally the same position - the efforts that are being made by us all collectively to address the biosphere catastrophe are absolutely inadequate, because the biosphere catastrophe is accelerating and the actual trend in global warming is for up to 4.8 degrees of warming by 2100, with current policy projections limiting it 3.9 degrees, with Paris Agreement commitments even if implemented still expected to result in up to 2.8 degrees of warming. The world as we know it will not survive that. Absolutely enormous damage will be done by even 2 degrees of warming.
The biosphere catastrophe is here and getting rapidly worse by virtually any measure you can find.
The only thing I can see to do is recognise that it is an emergency, and working as hard and fast as we can to behave as if it is an emergency and changing those behaviours that are contradict that and are hypocritical (say one thing, do another). As soon as we declare a crisis emergency, we are hypocrites in that we are all structured into many behaviours that contradict our declaration. Now that my University has agreed with us and declared a climate emergency, we now have leverage to go back to the senior team to say 'Right now we need to get a grip of our flying - big delegations to China for graduation are incompatible with the climate emergency, and we can lead by example on this'. So declaring a climate emergency is not necessarily mere words - words can have power, and we are trying to make these words have power.
Daily I feel sick and horrified at the situation. Actually working on these things professionally day in day out is a significant emotional burden. I have a family - what can I do to protect my children as much as I can? I don't know. I know it isn't much, but every action makes the outcome a little less awful so I will do what I can.
Nothing is the same any more. As Naomi Klein rightly said, 'This changes everything'. Quite what it changes it to I don't know - that depends on our choices now.
Take China - the world's biggest investor in solar but also massively expanding coal (as profitofdoom rightly point out). We can just slam them for being hypocrites when the tout their solar as evidence of greenness. Fine but this fails to grasp that there is a struggle under way, between those for whom solar is just another form of power in a mythical every-expanding economy, and those who grasp the extreme urgency of decarbonisation. Same with my University: overall, my University is currently making global warming worse - obviously true. We know it and many in the University are trying to change it.
This is the biggest turning point in human history and for all the other life forms that have had the misfortune to share this planet with us. The biosphere consequences follow our actions inexorably. Time's up. Time for different choices. By all means call out those who are trying to do something better for being inadequate and for being hypocrites. But if that's all you've got it's not good enough - you need to do what you can to reinforce, improve and amplify those inadequate efforts so that, as quickly as possible, we all act like it is is the profound emergency that it really is. The accelerating biosphere catastrophe is coming for us all, wherever we live and however much money we have.
Time isn't up.
Even if we are wiped out with 95% of other species. In another 500,000 years the earth will be full of diversity. The importance is entirely our own doing or attachment, it doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. We protect species because we enjoy diversity, to watch them etc.. many indirectly help us live too. But we are just a bit of life, on a small rock that will be gone in 5-6 billion years.
As i said before, if universities want to help. They should compress courses to 18-24 mths and go virtual, anything less is just dabbling to save their conscience.
Time is up for the current carbon-based global system. No-one is suggesting that the collapse of that system means the end of all life on earth. And yes the end of all life on earth is inevitable in the coming billions of years. If the current accelerating collapse is neither here nor there to you that's up to you. I profoundly disagree.
As for universities and the rest of the world, more virtual and local and less flying is a definite requirement. As for anything less being mere dabbling to salve consciences, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary - there are lots of other things that make a real difference e.g. reduced energy consumption, tree planting to actively take carbon out of the air.
I am curious - in terms of your actual actions in life, have you changed anything, or are you still doing what you would have done anyway e.g. re flying and so on? There is a bit of me that get;s the whole 'The current system is doomed, I'm going to die and all life on earth will eventually be extinguished so I might as well have as much fun as I can, fly as much as I like, consume as much as I want'. Is that where you are?
Ethical or moral debate.
If you need to offset to balance your less than green activities. Why not just stop the activities and still offset. That is the only way the current trend will be reversed or even slowed.
Yes spot on - reducing the activities as quickly as possible, stopping as quickly as possible and still offsetting. The more we do the less awful the outcome.
I really would be interested to know about your actions - have you changed what you are doing or are you going for the fatalistic, have as much fun as you can while feeding the accelerating catastrophe option?
On the contrary, I don’t the ‘gotcha’ type replies are unnecessary. If we can’t be forced to look at and justify our own operational existence then how can we look at others with a judgemental eye?
> I am curious - in terms of your actual actions in life, have you changed anything, or are you still doing what you would have done anyway e.g. re flying and so on?
I do one short haul flight usually every12-18mths, do a lot of activities from the door. If I go elsewhere to swim, train, climb indoors i often cycle(15km min each way). I buy second hand and expect to get a decade plus out of anything, car is small engined petrol which could be replaced with electric, but unsure if it's better to wait until it's reached old age. Grow a lot of our own food, non recyclable waste is less than a carrier bag a week.
And I'm still really a hypocrite and far far from being carbon neutral. I don't think we can live our western standard of living and be neutral. As soon as you start adding in modern appliances, IT, any recreation activities or have kids we've blown it.
Hi Phil. Sorry if I was not clear. I agree that pointing out inconsistency between someone's declared principles and their actions is worthwhile. However, the 'gotcha' approach can fail to grasp that it matters if that person/institution says 'These are the principle I have adopted. I am not claiming that all of my actions align with that principle. I am working towards aligning them'.
A lot of similarities to my pattern.
Another genuine question summo: why are you bothering to make the efforts you are to reduce your emissions and your wider impact on the biosphere?
>......The accelerating biosphere catastrophe is coming for us all, wherever we live and however much money we have. <
Although that's a very GOThrones statement many will agree that there are impending major problems.
I do find it surprising that control of population is hardly ever directly mentioned, including in this thread. It may be simplistic but surely a reduction in population would probably be directly linked to a reduction in all types of pollution etc. Instead world population is increasing, and food production has so far been 'improved' and sustainable. In the 60s/70s there was much talk of a population catastrophe but no longer. It seems as though we cannot discuss this as it includes the right of everyone to have large families and also religious teachings.
> If you need to offset to balance your less than green activities. Why not just stop the activities and still offset. That is the only way the current trend will be reversed or even slowed.
Seems to me you are making the perfect the enemy of the good. Or maybe you've some particular gripe against universities, period.
> I do find it surprising that control of population is hardly ever directly mentioned ...
It gets mentioned, but people find it difficult to face the issue. Indeed I chuckled when I read that one of the Extinction Rebellion protestors said that she was worried about the fate of the children she 'intended to have in the future.' It's not very joined-up thinking.
The human population has more than *doubled* since 1960; quite an incredible fact. We are a weed-like species. I am less worried about the fate of Homo Sapiens than I am about the other species which we are wiping out.
On the University matter mentioned here: I welcome the intervention by Bristol, but I would ask why that University goes about its business in the 'perma-growth' fashion which is common amongst all UK universities. Why set up in China at all, for example? The idea of always 'getting bigger' is part of the underlying environmental problem.
> Seems to me you are making the perfect the enemy of the good. Or maybe you've some particular gripe against universities, period.
If we want business people to meet virtually, why can't many university activities go virtual too? Their building use in many instances isn't that high. It clearly works for the open university. Or perhaps some buildings should be merged with industry and schools so lecture halls and other facilities can be used for a much greater proportion of the year. I just think they are approaching the problem from the wrong direction.
> many will agree that there are impending major problems.
That is how I used to see it but if you look at the evidence in depth a more accurate evaluation is that it is an accelerating global catastrophe. I wish it wasn't.
You are right that population levels are part of the problem. The world is struggling to cope as it is with over 7 billion people. UN calculations are that we are heading for over 11 billion people by 2050. I do not see how the biosphere can cope with that. The biggest contribution we can make is individuals to reduce emissions and biosphere pollution generally is to have fewer children. This points are made often by those of us working in this area.
It is also crucial to understand that the poorest 50% of the world's population are responsible for only 10% of the world's climate change emissions. The richest 10% are responsible for 49% of the emissions. https://theconversation.com/emissions-inequality-there-is-a-gulf-between-global-rich-and-poor-113804
You are right that this permanent growth approach by my University is the wrong track - it is absolutely unsustainable. There is lots of important thinking out there under headings of beyond growth, degrowth and so on. Declaring a climate emergency enables people like me to put exactly this point on the table for the first time with the University's senior team. Taking my own case: I have just take on a PhD student from China to work on the role of Chinese think tanks in promoting climate action, two from Ghana working on sustainability in relation to the mining sector, one from Nigeria working on addressing biosphere collapse and armed conflict in that country - and more in the pipeline. Just a couple of years ago I would have been celebrating the exciting work ahead. Now I am grappling with 'Should I be doing this? Is there a way of doing this with positive net effect?' Across my institution there is real turmoil around what to do. Not everyone is in that turmoil yet in the institution but it is mounting rapidly. I guess what I am trying to say is that the horrific nature of the situation and the need for an emergency response is only just sinking in and it is in a lot of ways bewildering but we are trying.
Yes - we are having intense conversations in the University around virtual meetings and maximum use of infrastructure. Declaring a climate emergency gives us a means of pushing both those things.
> Yes - we are having intense conversations in the University around virtual meetings and maximum use of infrastructure. Declaring a climate emergency gives us a means of pushing both those things.
Virtual meeting... drop in the ocean. Virtual courses. Follow the OU model. Just have perhaps two residential periods in a year. You stagger all the courses so you can have a relatively small campus, running at max occupancy serving a large number of students.
Ah sorry I wasn't clear - yes virtual courses are also part of the discussion. We have some open online courses https://www.bristol.ac.uk/bristol-futures/open-online-courses/. That does not yet address the question of delivering degrees as much as possible using that approach but again we know that. We are in the early days of trying to work out how the University will have to be restructured.
You might have missed this one in the thread: "Another genuine question summo: why are you bothering to make the efforts you are to reduce your emissions and your wider impact on the biosphere?" I am very interested to know.
"Why are we so obsessed with economic growth, knowing that it has devastating effects on our finite planet (and ultimately us)? SYSTEM ERROR looks for answers to this principal contradiction of our time and considers global capitalism from the perspective of those who run it. In this manner, the film not only makes the absurdity of our growth-centered system uncomfortably perceptible, but also strikingly questions the seemingly irrefutable rules of the game within a bigger context."
> You might have missed this one in the thread: "Another genuine question summo: why are you bothering to make the efforts you are to reduce your emissions and your wider impact on the biosphere?" I am very interested to know.
Because I quite like wildlife and diversity. I work in forestry and farming, which involves the management/protection of a fair amount of rarer species or habitat. My quals are in natural and environmental sciences, so I know what's at stake, the scale of how to fix it, but also that it's ultimately futile as without an initial disaster to get the ball rolling 99% of the population aren't interested.
I'll plug away, but out of billions on earth our efforts are pointless. The protestors have arguably lost support rather than gained any this week, through their partying type actions, rather than use the media to present a professional deliberate delivery of their cause. Ranting and super glue won't change anything, they've just come across as spoilt rich kids and students who've yet to work a day in day in their life. Credibility zero. Rather than target how public, they should have been at davos 2-3 months ago.
The only political party in the UK that could steer the economy and have a greener agenda was almost voted out of existence in the UK by the very people who want the planet saving for the next generation (Lib dems). I see no hope.
Do you know how the use of energy in your University breaks down? I'd be surprised if your teaching spaces are that important. We did look into this in my own institution (one of the leading Russell Group universities as measured by access to the Eastern Peak). Top energy user by a significant margin was the computer centre, next were various research labs (one of the heaviest, ironically, being a facility for plant growth in controlled environmental conditions, used for experiments on the likely effects of climate change). Heating is fairly low carbon as it is supplied by district heating scheme run off a waste incinerator co-generating electricity. With a bit of a look there turned out to be lots of opportunities for energy saving investments that actually produced a quick payback, so even the CFO could be persuaded to stump up some money for them.
On the other side of the ledger, what's your university doing in terms of research to support a transition to zero carbon - both on the science and engineering of new energy technologies, and on the societal and political issues? To what extent does your teaching support this? I'm sure you're doing lots you can be proud of, and you should be able to influence the institution to do more.
Hi Richard. I am about to go climbing so can only ping a brief holding message just now. In essence we are doing a lot. See
in the meantime. I will reply properly after the weekend
Do you mean the US, the Ozzie’s and the Canadians, the three biggest CO2 producers per capita?
> Hi Richard. I am about to go climbing so can only ping a brief holding message just now. In essence we are doing a lot. See
> in the meantime. I will reply properly after the weekend
Cycling to the crag? :P
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