System Change – Not Climate Change

We call ourselves climate activists. We attend climate marches. We pronounce our commitment to sustainability on our Instagram stories. But mostly, it’s a lie. We still take cars to school; fly to exotic destinations for beach holidays; forget to turn off the lights; eat beef from Argentina; stand under steaming showers for 20 minutes.

Our school does the same. We now have recycling for plastic, signs in the bathroom that tell us how much to flush, and a sparkling water fountain. We pretend this makes us “green”. But every year for CWW we get on planes. As many as 40 students fly as far afield as Sri Lanka and Nepal. Others go to Ghana, Morocco and Iceland. Seven-day independent trips to South East Asia are routinely approved, despite their carbon emissions.

And that’s before we even consider sports. From Vienna to Brussels to London, we fly for short, two-day trips. We win, we lose; but we don’t think about the climate crisis we’re complicit in.

In other words, we’re not a green school.

While the world is running out of time, we’re running around pretending to do something. We have recycling campaigns, but from the rubbish left around school it hardly seems like that’s working. We let students go to climate strikes that they’ll post on their Snapchats and then forget about. We have bike-to-school challenges that ignore the people who take public transport to school.

And it’s not just you. It’s me too. I’ve also flown for sport. In tenth grade, I took a flight to Crete for CWW. I was going to go to Sri Lanka last year until it was cancelled. But I also wasn’t as aware of the climate crisis a year ago as I am now. Why should I have been? I was – still am – a kid. This shouldn’t be our responsibility. But if not us, then who?

So while we’re not a green school, we should be.

Becoming a green school must happen on two levels. First, students must take personal responsibility for their actions. This means recycling, using more public transport, eating less meat and maybe not going to the Maldives for holiday.

Secondly, and more importantly, it must happen on a broader, school-wide level. Firstly, this means taking a look at CWW trips that involve flights. This does not mean abolishing them altogether, but it does mean there must be a serious conversation about whether the costs of these trips really justify the benefits. As Cambridge economist Tim Hartford said, “be carbon optimal, not carbon neutral.” Sadly, our current CWWs are neither.

Furthermore, there needs to be far fewer flights during the senior independent trips. One potential way of limiting this is to set an internal tax on flights within the school’s allocated budget for independent trips. By taxing flights within Europe at 100 CHF and those outside of Europe at 300 CHF, there is a large disincentive for taking planes. Alternately, or in addition, the school could provide a subsidy for people who use trains and busses, which can often be more expensive and tedious. This way the costs of a trip, including their significant carbon emissions, are weighed more effectively with their benefits.

Next, being green involves having a conversation around sports trips. As a three-season athlete, I appreciate the important role that competition plays. But sometimes, climate change might mean not going to a friendly match in London. Or taking the train to Budapest or Vienna instead of flying. Yes, this is more tedious. Yes, this might be disappointing. But it is also a necessary step in addressing global warming.

Finally, if the school really is serious about climate action, green projects need to be prioritized and funded. These green projects range from installing solar panels on the Upper School roof to teaching Lower and Middle School kids about climate change. In other words, the school needs to take positive action as well as restricting carbon emissions.

Let’s not close our eyes and hope that climate change goes away because it won’t. Climate change is the biggest threat we face today, and it needs to be treated as such. Bike-to-school challenges are welcome, but they’re wholly insufficient to tackle climate change. We need real systemic change at an institutional level as well as an individual level. For that, the student body and the administration are going to have to take serious, and perhaps painful, action. The scale of the issue we face requires it.

Lucas Frauenlob ’20

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