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How St Andrews Students Tackle Climate Change

“We are the next generation of people that are going to inherit the world and so we need to have a say in what it’s going to be like in the future,’’ says Grace, a student at the University. Her commitment to protecting our climate is shared among many other students and societies in the town. Here in St Andrews, where students can collaborate in a close-knit environment, there are plenty of opportunities to participate in climate activism.  

Return back to the school climate strikes of 2019: ‘‘we want action.’’ ‘‘One voice is strong, but thousands are stronger.’’ These statements are some of the thousands uttered by students across the country during the UK climate strikes. Stretching south from Leeds and into Cardiff, Bristol, and the beating heart of London on 15 February, over 10,000 students skipped school to protest for greater action against climate change. The underlying message of these protests remains the same: young people who did not start the climate crisis are forced to deal with its consequences. Students collectively voiced their concerns. 

Climate protests are far from new. In April 1970, over 22 million people across the United States gathered in solidarity on the first-ever Earth Day to protest against environmental destruction. Drawing on inspiration from their predecessors, the growth of youth-based climate movements took centre stage over 40 years later in 2011. Since then, youth groups internationally have advocated for their schools, universities, and governments to divest from harmful greenhouse gases and fossil fuels towards more sustainable climate practices. 

Inspired by climate advocate Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future is an international youth-led movement that coordinates skipping Friday classes and demands political leaders to engage in progressive climate action. 1.4 million young people from over 125 countries joined this protest in May 2019, with the population rising to four million in September. With various protests organised alongside global climate conferences like the Conference of the Parties (COP), the main question raised by these youth groups is one of accountability. Governments must ensure they are responsibly and transparently implementing positive climate policies.

The influence of student climate activism seeps into countless global and local institutions, universities, and social media platforms. The United Nations launched its Youth in Action campaign and the Youth Climate Action Summit in 2019 to mobilise conversations and create platforms for the global youth to discuss climate-positive strategies. In 2019, over 85 UK universities formed the UK Universities Climate Network (UUCN) which aims to advance academic research surrounding climate change and coordinate quantitative findings to present to governments and businesses across the UK. These policies would not exist if the youth did not actively protest, discuss, and engage with climate-related issues.  

These actions and feelings barely scratch the surface of what participating in student climate activism breeds. However, this international crisis can feel distant to us here in St Andrews. Images of crowds gathered around parliaments or historical monuments in faraway international cities can make our efforts feel less impactful. 

Nonetheless, when digging deeper our town is constantly and proactively engaging in progressive climate action. What makes St Andrews unique is its position as a densely student-populated and international town. The town offers the opportunity for the various voices, stories, and experiences of students to come together and coordinate effective climate action. This was achieved by the 2019 and 2021 Line in the Sand protests organised by students at the University of St Andrews, in unity with the Global Climate Strike movements occurring in over 1400 cities around the world. Forming a line of nearly 1,200 people stretching over West Sands, these were the largest climate strikes in St Andrews’ history. This historic moment of student solidarity over climate change resulted in the University's increased commitment to climate action through the Environmental Sustainability Board, with a target to reach net zero by 2035.

The St Andrews Green Film Festival also demonstrates St Andrews’ awareness of the climate crisis. As a week-long non-profit film festival that ran from 5 February this year, it aims to utilise media and films to raise awareness about issues such as sustainability and eco-responsibility. The festival inspires conversations among students about our role in the climate crisis and how we can improve it. 

‘‘We are at an age where the choices we make are incredibly impactful,’’ says Chloë Ghiro, head curator of the Green Film Festival. Screening a diverse range of climate-related topics through films such as Together We Cycle about the cycling community in the Netherlands, the committee aimed to invite a series of panellists to further engage with these ideas. ‘‘We had the cycling representative from Fife to talk about the infrastructure they were putting in Fife to make cycling more accessible and safer,’’ says Chloë. ‘‘It's a space for communities to come together, learn and voice their concerns about the world in general and how it affects people in St Andrews and Fife.’’ These student-driven actions and commitment to climate activism make our town a positive and accessible place, where our voices can be heard and actions directly impact the community. 

Uniquely, student climate activism here in St Andrews targets global climate issues as well as action to protect our town itself. Our glorious beaches, stunning historical monuments, and rolling greenery make our town a special place to study in. But with rising sea levels, plastics in our oceans, and the growing frequency of weather extremities, the threat climate change poses to St Andrews is increasing. Flooding and coastal erosion can structurally damage historical monuments, and sea pollution threatens the local aquatic habitats near our beloved beaches. Various student initiatives such as the Marine Society’s Clean up the Beach campaigns are organised to preserve West Sands’ ecosystems. It's further proof that students in this university can rally together to counter the threat that climate change provides to our town. 

From the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to our very own West Sands in St Andrews, these movements are powerful and persuasive. Initiatives in St Andrews breed confidence that students are dedicated to sharing their voices and promoting action.

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