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BGS Eco Team Assembly: “The Moment of Crisis has Come”

On Thursday 14 February, members of the BGS Eco team, from Year 3 to Upper Sixth, took the Senior School Assembly in the Great Hall. With a captive audience of over 1,000 pupils and staff, the group gave the following address… 

This is a Climate Emergency - and we’ve got some things to say about it!

First off, some facts:
• Greenland has lost almost 4 trillion tonnes of ice since 2002. Mountain ranges from the Himalayas to the Andes to the Alps are also losing ice rapidly as glaciers shrink. 
• As ice on land melts and hotter oceans expand, sea levels are rising. Even if we manage to restrict temperature rise to 2C, one in five people in the world will eventually see their cities submerged, from New York to London to Shanghai.
• The planet’s average temperature started to climb steadily two centuries ago, but has rocketed since the Second World War. This means there is more energy in the atmosphere, making extreme weather events more frequent and more intense.
• Billions of tonnes of CO2 are sent into the atmosphere every year from coal, oil and gas burning. There is no sign of these emissions starting to fall rapidly, as is needed.

But we’ve heard these facts before. We’ve seen the pictures of the Australian bushfires in the news. Some of us might have seen footage of the famine in North Africa, or the floods in Bangladesh. And yet… people struggle to take the issue of climate change seriously, they regard it as a constant irritating background noise from vegans and hypocritical celebrities. 

And it’s understandable given the nature of the problem we face:
The consequences are too abstract; we have no historical events to use by comparison and the scale of the effects are so inconceivably large we think it better to just not conceive of it at all. Further, it is unlike any issue we have faced because the root of the problem is near-on universal;  previous movements such as those in favour of civil rights and disarmament in the 1960s were so much easier to get behind because all that was required was to point our fingers at perceived injustices and those that were committing them.

The difference now is that every one of us contributes towards climate change - every one of our lives - and it is much harder to accept faults in ourselves than to point them out in other people.

We act shocked when we face these increasingly common and high magnitude natural disasters. Always the same surprised reaction, even though we live under an economic system that rewards greed, deceit and the exploitation of the planet itself and all its inhabitants. It is a system built on flawed, mythical ideals of infinite for-profit growth, in a planet of finite resources. The self-destructive nature of capitalism is so apparent that even one of it’s would be fervent supporters- Forbes magazine - cannot hide from the truth. They’ve run a story with the headline- ‘Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050’. 

It will not be easy to change. This poison has pervaded our system so utterly and completely, that in the UK, while the government claims that it is a world leader on matters of climate and emissions, it was recently exposed that the government had been covertly investing billions in fossil fuel operations in other countries. All this while we continue to denounce Third World countries who adopt fossil fuels. 

But how can we operate from within this system? How can we stop seeing ourselves as entitled individuals and start to think about others - other humans, other animals, other plants, other life-forms?

The thing is while we have been arguing about capitalism and feeling powerless, the Junior School has been out there picking up litter. Their eco team has been clearing up the Senior School’s mess - and they’re not happy about it. It’s just another case leaving it to the younger generation! We should be out there and doing something about it ourselves!  

Meat-free Monday has already helped hugely. Cows are one of the biggest threats to our planet. They produce Methane, a gas 21 times more deadly to our environment than CO2 emissions. As a school, by following the ever-growing trend of vegetarianism, we have vastly contributed to saving the place we live. In just the ten meat-free Monday’s so far this year, we have reduced our meat consumption by approximately 700kg. Thank you for taking part in this. Just by cutting your daily intake of meat to 50g a day, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 35%, saving almost a tonne of carbon dioxide each year. 

The attitude that one person won’t make a difference is holding us back. Don’t listen to small minded people discussing a matter as big as climate change.

And imagine if people could think about clothes in the same way. Factories are legally required to clean up their waste but the lack of law enforcement means that this rarely happens. Places like the Citarium River in Indonesia, home to 2,000 industrial factories, are now completely unliveable for wildlife. Both fisherman and locals scavenge the waste-filled river for food. Use more sustainable methods for both buying and re-homing clothes such as Depop or charity shops. Step in the right direction for the worlds most polluted river, act locally but think globally.

And thinking of plastic, we’ve already changed to Vegware products in the Great Hall. Imagine if we could eliminate plastic from the JCR? And if everyone could master the recycling system - cream bin for paper and recyclables, grey bin for landfill. I mean. It’s not hard - and all it takes is for one item put in the wrong bin to contaminate it and undermine everyone else’s efforts.

But it’s the cars that really grind my gears! All those single car journeys, all that idling - engines running, exhausts belching. People are trying - and we’ve been awarded a prize for sustainable school transport in Bristol, if you can believe it - but imagine if EVERYONE decided to take it seriously. Walk if you can walk, cycle, catch the bus. We can defy the carbon economy with an individual action.

At the end of the day, taking part in protests on College Green and posting messages on social media is good. However, if you wait for the government to act – for other people to act – nothing will be achieved. Raising awareness is helpful and please continue to do this, but what we’re proposing is consistent, meaningful action at a time when it is necessary. 

The Senior School Environmental club meets on Mondays at 2pm in J15 for Year 11 to Upper Sixth and on Thursday at 2pm in P15 for Year 7 to 11; come along to find out more about gaining Eco Schools Green Flag Status, Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free School status, listen to external speakers, organise beach cleans, litter picks and other sustainability projects.

And we’re catching up with the Infants and Juniors by getting involved with the Eco Schools Programme. Each year-group has a representative – their names and photos are on the Eco board in the main School corridor. This year our target areas are waste, biodiversity and transport. If you want to get more involved, go along to the clubs and seek out your eco-rep - we need passionate people with big ideas and broad minds.

One thing is clear: we can’t just buy more green products and pretend everything’s okay. There is no ethical consumerism! But we can align our individual actions with our political beliefs, we can act with unity. Look around the stage. We’re already many. Things (people, actions, plastic cups) do not exist in isolation - they are part of the world, connected in so many complex ways to a thousand other beings. Let’s live in this spirit. Let’s act as if we matter!

Please follow us on Twitter @bgsbristoleco for more news, updates, stories and detail on how our School and the community can become more sustainable!