They are prime examples of student determination to tackle a system they believed to be unfair … and face the consequences.Lucas Maddalena

It’s been over a month since COP. A month since we were told in no uncertain terms that ‘if Glasgow fails, the whole thing fails.’ A month since the world’s leaders walked out of the most important climate summit of the century with nothing more than a series of vague commitments and vanilla promises.

It would be an understatement to say that COP was anything but a failure: coal was to be ‘phased down’ not ‘phased out’ and many countries, such as Australia, did not modify their previous 2030 targets at all. Despite the performative grandiloquence of promises to ‘end deforestation by 2030’, the planet is still on track to warm by over 2C by the end of the century.

Unfortunately for us, Glasgow failed  and what’s worse, the world hasn’t blinked. In Cambridge, that famous hub of ‘woke’ political awareness, people barely took notice.

"In Cambridge, that famous hub of ‘woke’ political awareness, people barely took notice"

Historically, students have frequently led the charge against injustice. One need look no further than Paris in 1968, where over 6,000 students erupted into the streets in protest at the government’s handling of the Vietnam war, and, more generally, against capitalism, imperialism and conservatism. The resulting upheaval triggered a general strike that involved over 10 million workers, some 22% of the French population at the time. Though the protest failed in its immediate objectives, with the conservative Gaullist party achieving a resounding victory in the elections later that year, the ‘generation of 1968’ lived on; the effects of 1968 have resonated down through the years, breathing fresh life into the French tradition of protest and radicalism that stretches back to 1789 and is still so evident today.

Recent history is littered with such examples of student protests. Not only in France in 1968, but also in Japan in 1970, in Greece in 1973 and South Africa in 1976 – to name but a few. Though not every one was successful – indeed many were met with police brutality – they were events that nevertheless defined generations. They are prime examples of student determination to tackle a system they believed to be unfair … and face the consequences.

"Being ‘green’ should not be a personality trait: it should be the rule, not the exception"

What is equally striking is that these were done in an age without social media, without Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. The fervour of student activism spread only by word of mouth and strength of action. Looking around at the students of today I can’t help but wonder: what have we lost?

This is not meant as a call to the barricades, but rather a plea for a more active engagement with those issues left unaddressed by COP26. Student inertia stems not from a lack of concern about pressing environmental issues, but rather the fact that only rarely does this concern translate into action.

Responding to the climate crisis demands more than eating less meat and buying second-hand clothes: it requires constant determination to be part of a mass environmentalist movement. Being a passive participant, a quiet signatory of a large petition is not enough. Join Cambridge Zero, write that open letter, go to that protest, tweet your support, spread the message – there are a hundred ways to make your voice heard. We are blessed to be living in a virtual age where this is so easy – why not make most of it? Being ‘green’ should not be a personality trait: it should be the rule, not the exception.


Mountain View

Johnson at COP26: ‘climate revolution’ or ‘blah, blah, blah’?

Superlatives are, of course, misleading. There are some, if not many, people with a strong commitment towards campaigning for climate justice. Student initiatives such as the divestment campaigns have made impressive inroads into eroding financial dependence on fossil fuel investments. However, what Cambridge is witnessing today is not a reaction proportional to the depth of the crisis that we are in. Cambridge University remains firmly tied to polluting corporations such as Barclays, Schlumberger and Shell. There is much more work to be done, and yet the vast majority of students seem reluctant to do it.

The world of 1968 was undoubtedly a very different place, with the spectre of nuclear Armageddon looming large over everyday life and the Cold War dominating the political discourse. But the challenges of today are no less frightening. The world is steaming towards a climate catastrophe from which nobody can escape; COP after COP after COP have ended in a car crash of broken promises and frustrated hopes.

And yet, unlike in past times of crisis, the student community seems hesitant to put the effort into fighting for its ideals. Studying at Cambridge is an educational privilege; university students in the UK are forced into a political awareness denied to the vast global majority. Though it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of work at Cambridge, we must keep our sense of perspective and, more importantly, of urgency. Student life is a busy life. Many love it; many hate it, but it is all a question of priorities.

The failure of COP26 demonstrates one thing above all else: our future is in our own hands. Everyone has a right to protest. It’s time Cambridge started using it.