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New leadership and activism for sustainability

Wednesday 25-03-2015 - 11:24

At the Student Sustainability Summit this week, hundreds of students came together to take action on sustainability and social justice. And we did it because it’s never been more important.

Sustainability isn't just about doing the recycling properly. It needs active student leadership. We know that this is one of the defining political struggles of our time, but you wouldn’t think it when you look at our leaders today.

I’m sick of seeing governments missing targets. I’m sick of seeing them pushing back deadlines. And I’m sick of seeing them fail to agree on proper solutions.Our leaders haven’t been leading on sustainability. It’s time for the student movement to lead instead.

At NUS, we shape education to create a fairer and more prosperous society for everyone. Sustainability is a huge part of that. We need graduates who are part of the solution to our social, economic and environmental problems. 

Masses of students across the UK are already contributing to the positive future they want to see. Year on year, volunteering efforts are making a huge difference. But what’s I was most excited about this week was seeing students turning sustainability into a real political issue.

Just look at the incredible divestment movement that’s gaining momentum, not just here in the UK, but across the entire world.

Thousands and thousands of students are telling their institutions that it’s time to pull their money out of fossil fuels. Glasgow listened to their students. So did Bedfordshire. And if we keep up the pressure in Oxford, they’ll have no choice but to listen too. Keep pushing, and we’re going to see way more successes over the next year, as we force our institutions to make a clear moral choice. 

But we can’t stop there. We need to get sustainability into our curriculums too. When it’s not there, we need to challenge our tutors, and tell them to be preparing us with the skills and experience we need to tackle the challenges we face today.

That’s what happened in Manchester with the Post-Crash Economics Society. They looked at their syllabus and saw they were only being taught everything that led to the financial crash in the first place. They’re demanding to be taught more – to be taught better. And ideas like this are spreading.

#SSS15 was about collaboration. We’re strongest when we work together. But we can’t stop at the borders of the UK. There are no national solutions to global problems. We have to start working internationally, especially as we move towards the crucial UN climate talks in Paris. We need to make our voice louder. We need to make our impact stronger. We need to make students a force too powerful to ignore. That's what started this week.

Shaping education is the first step to shaping the whole of society. That’s why we need to see the student movement at the heart of these issues. Together, we can turn our education system into something we can be truly proud of – an education system which shapes a sustainable future.

Push your institution to divest. Get food growing on your campus. Put sustainability in your curriculums. Make this an active political issue at your union. It’s never been so important, but – after the Student Sustainability Summit – I’ve never been more optimistic.

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