A year ago today I wrote the first ever article for Wild and said ‘I don’t know anything about the environment’ to all 10 or so of my
bemused friends followers. A year on, 800 followers and over 100 articles later from students, businesses and societies up and down the country and some things haven’t changed: I’m still writing this article instead of doing my degree, and I still don’t really know all that much about the environment. But at the same time (cue dramatic music here) everything has changed.
When I launched Wild, my main aim was to find an outlet to ramble about my newfound interest in sustainability. I hoped to find some other students that wanted to be more eco-friendly but had no time, no money and no idea where to begin. To be honest I was probably also procrastinating from doing an essay.
I certainly hadn’t anticipated a year ago the sheer force and enthusiasm of students around the country who were eager to get involved, to make their voices heard and talk about the future of the planet. We all realised that students cared about the environment, sure. I’ve seen the photos of 70s hippie activists and we all had that One Token Vegan Friend. But that was a year ago. At some un-pinpoint-able moment the environment stopped being a niche topic and became the mainstream. Was it the David Attenborough documentary that did it? The plastic straw campaign? Was the widespread introduction of discounts when you bring your own coffee cup the tipping point to an entire societal shift?
I don’t know, but one thing that is clear is that young adults are no longer content to be silent or a minority interest group on environmental issues: we’re sharing their eco-friendly tips online, downloading (and developing) apps to reduce our carbon footprint, eating less meat, demanding universities to divest from fossil fuels, blocking the streets of cities worldwide in an effort to be the change. The question stopped being how can I be eco-friendly? and became what else can I do?
OK, you can turn the motivational music off now. The point is that running Wild (the puns still don’t get old) has revealed to me the incredible depth of knowledge, passion and projects of students in the UK and abroad who want to work together towards a sustainable future. It’s also clear that creating that future is really fucking complicated. So complicated that over 100 articles have barely scratched the surface of the issue. Going plastic-free won’t save the planet – but it helps. Going vegetarian or vegan won’t save the world – but it does a lot of good. Divesting from fossil fuels is a fantastic step forward – but it’s not the cure to climate change. There is no set answer, no neat solution or checkbox to tick.
You might say, well if none of these things solve the issue then what’s even the point? Why don’t I just go buy a triple beef burger and eat it using 20 plastic straws while I set fire to my own recycling bin?
Well, if you want to do that, then I can’t really stop you. But just like taking your reusable bag to the supermarket doesn’t prevent climate change, your one weird friend that insists on taking the car to the corner shop 2 doors down won’t be responsible for the destruction of the rainforests. It’s about what we do as a whole, as a society. The housemate who eats chicken 15 times a day (we’re all a little concerned for him) doesn’t change the fact that the country as a whole is consuming less meat. That time I forgot to stick the bread in the freezer and had to throw away half the loaf after a uniquely.. blue.. piece of toast doesn’t change the fact that the country as a whole is making huge strides to reduce food waste.
Wild has never been interested in perfection when it comes to sustainability (thank god), but about making use of the power we do have to make a difference. Deciphering the local recycling system still feels like a riddle and yesterday I accidentally accepted a coffee in a disposable cup from a well-meaning careers stand on campus. (Which I then drank, at high speed, whilst anxiously looking around with a paranoid fear all Wild subscribers would emerge as a herd and point at my eco faux pas with looks of betrayal and disappointment).
We might often feel powerless to have an impact when the news headlines feel like a morning bulletin of the previous day’s fuck-ups. But you know what? After year of Wild, a year talking to students involved in gardening societies, beekeeping organisations, starting up plastic free shops, shopping secondhand and learning to fix their own clothes, the idea that individuals are powerless begins to seem like the real myth.
It only takes a small group of students marching to their local shopping centre with handmade signs to put the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion in local newspaper headlines. It only takes cutting out chicken one day a week to save 150kg in annual greenhouse gas emissions. It only takes one person to write an article on the environment to reach hundreds of readers online, spark a discussion and even change someone’s mind.
Businesses have adapted to match the demand. Vegan options are commonplace in most restaurants now, alternative milks are standard in the high street chains, and bars offer paper straws as a default. Politicians are outspoken about the importance of individual action.
So let’s give ourselves some credit. Let’s stop swallowing the idea that we can’t make a difference when making a difference is exactly what we’ve been doing this whole time. I’m trying not to get poetic here but I will say: my local food waste cafe is a drop in the ocean. My tote bag has about as much impact as a gnat landing on a flower petal. This article is background noise. But as more and more people start participating in the discussion around climate change, signing petitions, switching out their plastic bags for reusable ones, turning patches of dirt into gardening allotments, marching to Parliament to demand the future we want, the collective force of our actions isn’t a stream of drops, it’s a fucking tidal wave.
So let’s keep on talking. Keep on writing about the environment, sustainability and how to create a cleaner, greener future, and share what we know with other students. Like many other final-years across the country, I’m coming to the end of my degree and I wonder what our cohort will achieve when we bring the momentum of change to the next stage in our lives. Post-graduation life is uncertain and hazy and the country is more unstable than you were after your last all-nighter in the library. But we’ve never needed a guarantee of a happy ending to start working towards a better future, only the possibility. And I don’t know about you, but the possibility of a better future is enough for me, and every time another student decides to take action for the planet, we bring it closer to a reality.
Anyway, I need to write my dissertation. Stay Wild folks.
[CROWD GOES WILD A SECOND TIME]