Climate won’t wait

On Friday 27 Sep 2019, the international Climate Strike cut the school day short in several Finnish towns. This text will consider the carbon footprint of science and the ways the University of Jyväskylä, its staff, and Jytte could take concrete action to fight climate change.

According to the Oct 2018 IPCC report, we have just twelve years to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 °C to avoid the chain reaction that would culminate in a climate catastrophe. The report was released a year ago and during that time, global production, and the consumption connected to it, has only grown despite all the climate-related promises, trade wars, and the stuttering of the economy. The condition of both the climate and the environment is declining at an increasing pace as one study after another has shown. Fighting climate change requires rapid and radical action in every area of the economy. The scientific community agrees on this.

And action has been taken for activists, and young people, have for a long time set an example by increasing our awareness of the direness of the situation. The Climate Week, which in Finland culminated in the Climate Strike on 27 Sep, was inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg. Without people like Thunberg and the work of grass-roots organisations, climate change would not feature in the mainstream media as prominently as it currently does nor would all the policy makers express their worry over the subject.

It has been known for decades that the current model of production and consumption are unsustainable but climate anxiety and the awakening of political interest have enabled the knowledge to be transformed into implementable programmes. One by one, the universities have also started to announce climate goals. In Finland, the University of Helsinki has started to assess and develop its own sustainability. They have also been prominent supporters of the Ilmastoveivi2019 climate campaign. The universities of Turku and Oulu are seeking to become carbon neutral.

The University of Jyväskylä also wants to be at the forefront against climate change. The new university strategy promises to “reshape competence to build a sustainable society”. The campus development programme, released in the spring, states that the university “is determined to reach a future where resources are used wisely” and promises “a carbon neutral campus by 2030”. In August 2019, the University of Jyväskylä signed the Global Climate Emergency Letter and was the first Finnish university to do so. State of emergency requires radical action. What does this mean in practice and how is it revealed in our day to day life?

The University also has a carbon footprint

On any given day, every member of the University staff adds to the university’s carbon footprint. The size of the footprint depends on a number of different factors: people commute and they eat and drink at the university. The academic staff also travels to conferences and other professional events, both nationally and internationally. Offices require air-conditioning and, depending on the time of the year, either heating or cooling. The digital research and teaching infrastructure uses a significant amount of energy.

The decisions and policies of the University of Jyväskylä does affect the size of the carbon footprint, even if it is formed by the decisions of its employees. Its 14700 students and 2700 staff members can be used to fight climate change. Or speed it up.

How to reduce the carbon footprint?

Travel forms a significant part of the carbon footprint. Each commuter should seriously consider whether using a car on a daily basis is the right thing to do. Even relatively long distances can be covered by walking, cycling, and using public transport. As an employer, the University can support this by ensuring that the chosen teaching hours do not prevent the use of public transport. The university can also build bike stands instead of parking spaces and refurbish spaces into changing rooms for cyclists. Charging for parking and offering financial support towards public transport costs would also encourage people opt for a bus instead of a car. Unneeded parking spaces could be turned into green spaces. On a regional level, the university should participate in lobbying for the development of local train services. The rail network provides a good infrastructure for commuter trains, which can be used to transport bikes.

Another significant part of the carbon footprint is formed by all the national and international travel conducted in the name of science. It is sad that the level of participation in international conferences is such an important metric for the Ministry of Education. Conferences often require flying for thousands of kilometres. Being a part of the international scientific community is extremely important, but does this really have to mean brief trips within Finland or to Europe, let alone to the United States or China?

There are number of ways the University can reduce the carbon footprint caused by business trips. A reasonable yearly quota could be set for the international travel of all academic staff. For example, one European and one intercontinental round trip by plane might be a suitable yearly limit for a single person. This does not have to mean that the participation in international scientific activity or conferences should be reduced. One plane trip could be combined with several rail trips, study visits, and other research and teaching arrangements, if only the travel policies were made more flexible. This would also make travelling more pleasant as the relentless flying during the conferences season takes its toll not just on the environment but also on the travellers.

To support a more carbon neutral approach to work-related travel, the university must lobby for a change to the State Travel Regulations. It is downright insane that several trips to the same part of the world cannot be combined into one if there are days off in between the events. It is just as insane that a work-related trip cannot be combined with a holiday as staying at the location slightly longer would reduce the emissions of both business and holiday travel. Additionally, the University must encourage its staff to use more sustainable means of transportation: there is no need to fly to Riga, St Petersburg, Moscow, Stockholm, or Copenhagen, let alone within Finland.

Regarding international conferences and seminars as well as national meetings, the development and adoption of digital equipment has to be prioritised. Developing the readiness to use the existing digital systems would save both time and the environment. Regarding work-related travel, each researcher should also be prepared to look in the mirror: were all the conferences really worth expanding the carbon footprint for? It is clear that travelling broadens your horizons but the work element could often be conducted digitally. The cost of travelling for the environment should be carefully considered regarding each trip.

In addition, the heating and electricity solutions in the campus buildings obviously have to be sustainable, that is, produced using renewable energy sources such as geothermal heating or wind turbines. People should also be encouraged to adopt more environmentally friendly diets. Menus of the campus Semma restaurants leave a lot to be desired. The proportion of cheese and red meat, especially beef, in meals should be reduced and the number of vegan, vegetarian, and fish options increased. The vegetarian meals should never be more expensive than the meat-based meals. Options for buying rescue food should also be increased and the price of food assessed to minimise wastage. Local food should be prioritised simply because of the research conducted at the University. Semma is a company the Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä co-owns with the Fazer Food Services. The University has a lot of power over the company and this is the time to use it.

The University needs resolutions and action

A lot is to be done. Important changes require a significant amount of working hours as the situation needs to be assessed, corrective measures and environmental actions planned, and resources allocated. Decisions must be made and actual changes seen through. Recommendations are not enough. People with power need to want change.

Taking climate change seriously does not mean just trouble and increased costs. It is an investment in the wellbeing of us, our students, and the future generations. It is also a unique opportunity to build the profile of the University in line with the institutional brand as a conglomerate of brave and influential experts who are building a healthier world. By participating in the radical action demanded by the Climate Emergency will definitely ensure that the University of Jyväskylä is doing its part in building the future.

Jytte also agrees to act!

Jytte also wants to act and agrees to do its part in battling climate change. We will promise the following:

  • In events organised by Jytte, meals and refreshments will be environmentally friendly. This means that we will emphasise fish and vegetarian choices.
  • If events are organised outside the campus area, Jytte’s announcements will include information on the availability of public transport.
  • Jytte board and assembly members will use public transport, especially trains, when attending FUURT meetings and events.
  • Awarding grants, Jytte will pay attention to the environmental effects of the applications.
  • Jytte will actively participate in FUURT discussions on climate change and the fight against. We will also seek to develop practical solutions regarding meeting, travel, and food services.
  • Jytte will do its part in lobbying for changes to the State Travel Regulations and will promote the quality over the quantity of work-related travel.
  • From 2020 onwards, Jytte’s membership bulletin will be electronic.

Jytte will also invite all other professional organisations (Finnish Union of University Professors, JYTT, JYHY, JYLL) operating in Jyväskylä to join in on the fight against climate change and to launch concrete actions within the university and among their members in support of the environment.

Demand climate action from the University!

Students of the University of Jyväskylä have already started to act for the environment: in February 2019 the Student Union announced its decision to support the Ilmastoveivi2019 campaign. It is time for the staff and the researchers to do their part. You can do yours through personal choices and by demanding that the University management, deans, department heads, and your line manager will do theirs. In the current situation, we are all required to demand clear, fast, and concrete action from the University. Time is running out and we are in a hurry, but through cooperation we can bring about real change. For sustainable science and society!