By Robert Andersson
In September this year, the Union Square in Manhattan, New York, was overlooked by a new clock. It was a climate clock, telling exactly how long the world had left to act on carbon emissions before a climate emergency changing human existence is irreversible. On Monday 22nd of September 1:30 pm, there remained: 7 years, 101 days, 17 hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds.
Since the emergence of climate activism in the 1960’s, and climate-focused political parties in the 1980’s, not much has happened. As the USA has retreated from the Paris Agreement, China never signed, and the European Parliament is considering legislation reversing the positive trajectory in the union, any progress seems unlikely to happen.
On the other hand, climate activism is surging among the global youth. Simultaneous demonstrations around the world demand action. The question is, who is responsible to act? Politicians? Yes. Corporations? Yes. However, in the end, it is a question of survival for the citizens of the world. And therefore, the responsibility is ours.
To be able to act, we need inspiration. One such source comes from an individual who has already begun. Berta Beloviczky is a Swedish undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh studying Agricultural Sciences, who has taken one such step on her own.
– Back home in Sweden I used to take walks in the nearby forest as often as possible. But here in Scotland it’s impossible, there are no real forests around, except from a few trees. In the beginning I didn’t notice, I thought it was beautiful anyway. But after a few weeks, I knew what was missing. And it wasn’t going to change by itself.
Trees are known to be capturing carbon dioxide from the air as they grow, and are therefore an important piece of the puzzle to reduce the threat of global warming. But trees also contribute to increased biodiversity, and have calming and stress-reducing effects, scientists have found. Something that could be quite useful in university areas.
In late September 2019, Berta started to search the web for a solution.
– Soon I found one organisation in Scotland, Woodland Trust, that distributes trees for free. Then I contacted the university Estate Manager, who thought it would be wonderful to plant them on campus. There is plenty of space but the university lacks funds and motivation to do it on its own. And he gave one tip; to keep emailing people again and again, even if they don’t answer.
Berta was encouraged by the positive feedback from the Estate Manager. She applied and was approved for 420 varying wild harvest trees, which bring yet more biodiversity by supplying both humans and animals with food; crab apples, hazel, rowan, dog rose, blackthorn among many more. The planting is set to start on 21 November, but with much of the work behind, a lot is still to be done.
– Depending on what restrictions are in force at the time, the social part of the planting event may largely go missing, and we may have to plant throughout the week. Also, volunteers are needed to show up even if it’s bad weather.
As the Estate Manager predicted, activating people would turn out to be the hard part.
– A lot of people have contacted me, people from the university, small businesses and some who had tried to do the same before. They all say they believe it’s a great idea and some of them offered to help. One had been inspired and wanted to do the same for her community. On the other hand, those who I need to contact can be hard to reach. It often takes a few emails before I receive an answer, and it can take a month to book a meeting. People do want to be engaged, but they more rarely want to actually do the work, and that is quite frustrating.
Berta chose to handle the project alone and not join or start any formal type of association, apart from a Facebook event.
– I knew that joining a big organisation or writing petitions would not solve the problem, as information and agreement must formally pass so many more people before anything can happen. It would take as long as reaching the UN Sustainability Goals! I had the energy and motivation to act, so it was easier and quicker to just do it, without a lot of surrounding stuff. If you are too many, you just wait for each other.
When it comes to motivation, Berta seems to have a lot. While the project has grown much greater than she initially believed, she still enjoys managing it, as she knows it will lead to greater good. Not having a TV, she also finds the time needed despite full-time study and, not to forget, a social life. Her best tip for those who would like to take on a similar project on their own is to not overthink it.
– If you have a thought, something you want to do, just act. If you think too much about whether you should or not, you will begin to doubt your ability. Remember, nobody else will do it instead of you.
When it comes to climate politics, Berta is sharing a certain pessimism with a lot of young people of today.
– Politicians today mostly state that we have a problem, but they don’t really solve it. Agreements don’t count, evidence of change does. Furthermore, not politics alone are responsible for climate change, we all are. Every choice we make affects the climate, so every change of behaviour counts. We are all threatened by the environment, so therefore it is every citizen’s responsibility to act, to save ourselves.
Today, the clock on Union Square has been turned off, not being a permanent installation. But in silence, time is still ticking. We have seven years to go, and it’s our responsibility to save ourselves.
By Robert Andersson
Illustration: Gabriella Borg Bruchfeld