The climate crisis does not wait until we graduate

In the shadow of Putin’s war, ecological crises are escalating. At the University of Oslo, the newly started “Akademiaprotest” is adjusting the headlight. The gap between action and science on climate change has become big – too big to hide it or to keep quiet.

Text: Kira Hoffmann, M.Sc. Geography of Global Change.

April 20, 2022 – Little by little, Frederikke Plass is filling up. A colorful speaker’s desk is situated in the middle of the square. As people pass by, they are taking a curious look at the crowd that has formed in the meantime. Some stop and see what is going on. Others seem to have no time, the next lecture is about to start and of course you do not want to be late for that.

Time – this is what it is all about on this sunny Wednesday morning at Fredrikke Plass. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that the next 2 to 3 years will be critical in order to avoid an extremely dangerous future for all of us. A key UN body says in a report that there must be “rapid, deep and immediate” cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Scientists around the world point out it is “now or never” to make a change. And yet, the gap between what science says and what politicians do is far from getting closed.

In order to raise awareness to this life-threatening problem, it is time to bring the climate protest not only to the streets, but also to workplaces, schools and universities. – The truth about our planetary situation has to become so loud and so omnipresent that no one can overhear it.

Luckily, I am not standing here alone on this April 20. 120 students and professors have gathered at Fredrikke Plass this day and are ready to speak up. Under the motto #ScienceNotSilence, students and professors take up the microphone and climb on the colorful speaker’s stool so that everyone around can hear and see clearly what they are about to share.  The first speaker is Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor of Social Anthropology: “The party is over” he says, “we have to do the dishes, but replace the cutlery […] Our thoughts on economic growth and the ‘good life’ need to be pushed through a new grinder and come out the other side as something that might not be totally unrecognizable, but very different from the times we lived in”.

Maja van der Velden, Director of the Sustainability Lab and Professor of Informatics, draws attention to a controversial agreement that the University of Oslo has concluded with Equinor: “UiO is helping to greenwash the oil industry by receiving money for research from a company that talks about the climate, but does little to help”, she says and warns of the consequences if 1.5 degrees of global warming, which are a set target in the Paris Agreement from 2015, are to be transcended. “I’m furious”, she concludes.

The pace of the climate catastrophe in a “Business as Usual” scenario, according to the IPCC, is moving towards a global warming of 3,2 degrees. This is a situation in which over half of the world’s population is losing their homes. Not to forget that many people have already lost their homes and livelihoods, especially in the Global South. It is also a situation in which irreversible tipping points might be reached and in which we face catastrophic and unpredictable consequences.

“When do we want to be on time? And what can we afford to be late for?”

Some might argue that the reason why so many people still seem to not care enough about the climate crisis is because they are not affected themselves yet. That can change rapidly. Just last week it was announced that water reservoirs in Oslo are around 20 percent lower than they are typically for the time of year. Oslo Municipality is now asking residents to think carefully about their water consumption. Drought measures might be taken very soon. Thus, the consequences are all around us and we need immediate action. Everyone will be affected. The climate crisis does not wait until we all have graduated.

“It is time to build pressure towards politicians choosing a self-destructive path”, says Jonas Kittelsen, one of the organizers of the Akademiaprotest, “when politicians clearly show no respect towards scientific findings, and the crisis is existential, it is our responsibility to speak up. It is a matter of justice. Staying silent equals giving marginalized people and future generations a death sentence”, he argues.

The event has been the second of its kind. The first “Akademiaprotest” took place on April 6. It aims to bring together students and academics from all faculties at the University of Oslo and is organized by Senter for Utvikling and Miljø (SUM) and co-arranged by the Student Parliament. The next Akademiaprotest will take place on May 25th and is going to continue every second Wednesday. The goal is to fill Fredrikkeplassen with students and academics: “We hope to create a low-key climate protest where everyone is invited to join, brings their lunch and friends and gets the opportunity to speak up”, Kittelsen says.

The climate and nature crisis requires fundamental, transformative changes that need new thinking and can provide opportunities for a positive societal development. The university is in a special position to show how we can think in a new way about biological and cultural diversity, new consumption and production patterns and societal development. We, as students, are an important part of this process.

There are still some days left until the colorful speaker’s stool finds its way back to Fredrikke Plass on the 25th of May and every second Wednesday after that. However, in the meantime we can all continuously ask ourselves on our way to lectures, seminars and essay deadlines: When do we want to be on time? And what can we afford to be late for?

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