Australia

Environment Policies – UNSW SRC Elections

It’s time for the annual SRC elections! The time were you get to have a two minute conversation with a party who you’ve never heard of. Who try deter you from voting for others and persuade you to vote for themselves. This will probably occur in an ambush situation, where you can’t physically get to a popular social hub without conversing with an SRC candidate. The problem with this 2 minute conversation is that it paves the way for an electoral system that thrives-off of catchy phrases and feel good policy announcements, with little time for a student to understand the proposals, intent or the persistence of SRC candidates. One glaring issue is ‘divestment from fossil fuels’ or ‘Fossil Free UNSW’. A few days ago I spoke to Ignites SRC presidential candidate Michael Murdocca who told me that divestment from fossil fuel companies is a useful tool to bring about action on climate change. His logic was simple; fossil fuels are harming our ecosystem at a increasing rate. Extreme weather events seem to be happening even more, year upon year. 2016 is set to be one of the hottest years on record, and the ten hottest years on record have come since 1998, 7 of which occurred in the last 10 years. But is fossil fuel divestment really the solution to this problem? The clear answer is yes, if we divest completely from fossil fuels and did not take up another non-renewable energy source we would reduce our CO2 emissions by 87% from energy generation. We would also have an economic catastrophe. If we covered all of UNSW’s rooftops with solar panels we would only be able to power 16% of the universities electricity usage, if we were going to cover 100% of UNSW electricity consumption with solar panels, we would be down $9.6 million dollars. This is still a small percentage of UNSW’s annual operational revenue of $155 million. But this again is theory. And commercially available solar panels that power 100% of UNSW annual electricity consumption would take over more land than we have presently available. That’s right. If we cover the village green, all rooftops, the food courts, unsw alumni lawn, scientia theatre and the globe lawn, we would still be unable to provide anywhere near the electricity to cover the electricity usage of UNSW. This is where the is a policy short-fall. Because as much as we want to be able to divest from fossil fuels, we are not at the technological stage where we can feasibly do so. So fossil fuels divestment is not a feasible position for UNSW or the globe at this point in time. Not without using another highly concentrated energy generation system, that is mobile enough to be used in public transport, preferably with a cost to construct, maintain, and produce from. At this stage Nuclear is still illegal in Australia, but it is the only other environmentally-friendly energy generating source that can be applied for an urban metropolis like Sydney.

In preparation for the upcoming elections the three running tickets Activate, Ignite and Left Action have released their proposals to promote UNSW’s environmental responsibility in 2017. Environment has always been a safe talking point amongst student politicians, and a likely point of discussion at free breakfast and barbeque events in the following few weeks. The environmental office bearer is in a uniquely difficult position as they try to attend to a global issue that requires much financial backing, in a left-leaning university that has its roots entrenched in the fossil fuel industry. Other policy announcements include; an increase in renewable energy useage at UNSW, increasing on-campus environmental awareness, sustainable transport alternatives, including environmental sustainability as a part of the curriculum, and various food based sustainability targets. This article is designed to show the differences, limitations and advantages of the policies provided by Activate, Ignite and Left Action.

Divestment

As a safe choice all parties led their environmental policy with a call for the university to divest from the fossil fuel industry. This is understandable with the overwhelming proportion of the student body being pro-divestment. Socialist Alternative have proposed plans to divest from all companies that involve themselves in the fossil fuel industry regardless of how minor their investment. Whereas activate have a slightly less severe call, where only industries with a total revenue based from the extraction, production and delivery of fossil fuels above 30% are required to be divested from, while ignite calls for incremental change in divestment from socially and environmentally unjust companies.  

 

This divestment issue is unlikely to have a major impact on students well-being, the environment or education. The theory behind the divestment from fossil fuel is based on the assumption that fossil fuels divestment must happen immediately in order to save the environment from irreversible climate change. This is a valid assumption, however the divestment of UNSW’s 21 million dollars in BHP billiton stocks is unlikely to cause the 30 billion dollar company any real consequence. This proposal is symbolic as it acknowledges the need for urgent actions. This action however would alienate a portion of the university that gets much of its funding from the fossil fuel industry (namely petroleum and mining engineering). The development of young petroleum and mining engineers to this day remains vital for the Australian and global economy as we are not yet at the stage where renewable energy sources can fill the void that would be left if fossil fuels left the industry without causing significant social harm. And investment in the research in petroleum engineering can be vital in improving carbon capture and storage as well as other environmentally friendly research projects within oil and gas.

 

The limitations of Fossil Fuel Divestment is that it cannot do anything meaningful by itself, and would do something socially harmful if done collectively, and this policy is unlikely to pass with the UNSW SRC council, while the pros attached to this policy include increased environmental awareness, and to encourage the university to increase funding in renewable energy on campus.

 

Compost/Gardens

Community gardens and increasing the utilisation of composting facilities on campus has been suggested by left action in opposition to Activates policy of community gardens for academic and charitable use. Community gardens obviously have it’s limitation, especially when trying to feed the fifty thousand students who attend UNSW daily. Whereas the community garden for academic and charitable purposes also have limited viability but is more sustainable then Left Actions community garden policy. The need for community gardens is not a well researched area either, and whether this is the most appropriate use of UNSW small space is contentious. Left actions wish to use rooftops for community gardens, this policy would also violate safety standards, and limit the space for solar panels that they wish to install onto rooftops. The need for a more sustainable student body is undoubted, and having community gardens would help remove excess transportation.

 

Left Action and Activate have dedicated plans to increase the size of community gardens for educational purposes on campus and Left Action wants to build up compost facilities on campus presumably to provide adequate fertilisation of these gardens. Ignite simply says they will look into ways to incorporate community gardens into the university campus.

 

Increased Renewable Energy On Campus

All parties have put forward policies that encourage an increase in renewable energy generation by using the knowledge housed by the university, Student, researchers and staff’s combined knowledge would be used to retrofit existing buildings that will remain operational for a decade or so.

The rooftop area of UNSW is equal to 147 thousand m2, to install solar power on 50% of this rooftop area would cost $156,000 and generate 438kWh/day or 8% of the universities typical daily usage and cover 73 thousand meters squared. 5455 Kw typical usage. Per m2 generates 6kwh/day. This would be of a relatively low cost to the university which has a operational revenue of $155 million dollars per year, and assuming no maintenance/repair cost the investment would repay itself within 4 years. Left actions policy therefore makes economic and political sense.

Activates and ignites proposal is dented by the fact that they do not have a target, plan or budget and simply states that the universities 0.3% power generation from renewable energy is not enough and that ‘we need to do more’.

 

Aboriginal consultation

Activate and Ignite have made the step to promote indigenous collective views on the environmental campaigns. This step is probably reflective of the current environmental activism support within the indigenous collective. Indigenous groups have often been disadvantaged in the past due to lack of explanation and often disregard to changes in energy policy. Particularly Australia’s nuclear testing on aboriginal land, and land disputes due to coal mining and fossil fuel exploration and extraction. This policy of activating and negotiating with indigenous students about proposed energy changes is likely to be a good step for the environment as well as indigenous wellbeing.

 

Ignite – Create a System of Dealing with Food Waste

There already exists a system of dealing with food waste on campus, including using Oz-Harvest for recycling unused but still edible food, however this system is limited due to lack of participation. This is particularly bad for the Kensington Colleges food provider Allianz catering, which caters for thousands of college students three times a day and sends unused food straight to landfill. Further collaboration with UNSW residential colleges, as well as collaboration with the campus food quarters would be a welcome improvement, to the environment and the livelihoods of many unfortunate individuals.

 

Irrelevant policies

Activate have also announced some policies that seem to have little effect with the environmental impact; namely the increased support for thoughtful foods, buddy cycling programs, increasing sustainability on campus. Thoughtful foods is a great eco-friendly food store that delivers on it aims to ‘provide cheap, minimally packaged and ethically produced wholefoods’. This does not mean however that it is the only store that environmentally friendly student and staff can buy eco-friendly foods. Coles, woolworths and even the campus IGA sell fruit, and vegetables with minimal packaging. Thoughtful foods does minimally packaged goods, however this gives more of a feel good, feeling towards the environment than promoting actual change.

The buddy cycling program has an interesting proposal  however it would have a negligible impact on the environment based on a study published by a Harvard researcher which found that depending on the cyclist diet, cycling could actually have negative effects compared to car-pooling and taking public transport.

Increasing sustainability on campus does sound like a environmentally friendly proposal, however behind the heading the writer seems to be typing keywords like;  vegetarian, vegan, halal and allergy-friendly food. Where vegetarian and vegan options are perhaps environmentally friendly, halal and allergy-friendly foods are only environmentally friendly if the allergy is to meet or dairy and the halal certification comes from the fact that the food is not meat. Students who wish to eat sustainably on campus can easily do so, thanks to stores such as stock market, and by carefully choosing foods at various other outlets

Ignite is somewhat disillusioned to how it can affect the government’s construction on the Anzac parade. Firstly because this is a non-UNSW issue which UNSW has no say in, and secondly, all of the nearby construction is due to be finished by the end of the month. Regardless of how much insight their environmental/ex-indigenous officer may have, they will not be able to change the past.

Another factless article published by ignite is that by limiting paper distribution in classes for electronic copies will be more environmentally friendly than using electronic copies. There is no research to back this claim up, despite being heavily marketed over the last decade.

 

Create a System of Dealing with Food Waste


An Ignite SRC will establish ways to deal with food waste on campus. We understand that a lot of usable food objects and materials are simply thrown out when they could be An Ignite SRC will establish ways to deal with food waste on campus. We understand that a lot of usable food objects and materials are simply thrown out when they could be managed in a more effective way. An Ignite SRC will work with groups such as Ozharvest UNSW in this process

All parties submitted proposal on issues that are currently affecting the environment in general. The solutions to these problems tend to be the socially acceptable, and nothing radical was proposed. All parties called for divestment as their starting issue and none of the parties addressed how they would respond to the shortfall in revenue that this change would enact or go further and do a cost/benefit analysis. This short-fall in analysis is very prevalent in all of the other policies announced by all of the parties. With no party calculating a cost-benefit analysis of introducing solar technology or even questioned whether there is a better choice of renewable energy for UNSW.

This is worrying as a solar project would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This pattern was continued for topics such as; food recycling, buddy cycling programs, community gardens and compost stations, changes to the light rail transport system. The only party whose proposals would put the university on track to meet the renewable energy requirement set out by the Australian government is Left Action. Left actions policies are however marred by the lack of calculations, facts and cost benefit analysis of their policies, which at this stage would by unlikely to pass the university administration. Activate and Ignite seem to have recycled old policies from previous elections. It would be great however for the university population to become more aware of the desperate situation that our environment is now in, and hopefully in future elections the two non-radical parties will be able to set goals to better this planet.  

This is an extremely concise review of the SRC Candidates’ proposals. However, this article was written in the hopes that when you vote for your representative in the SRC this year, it is not for the free pizza and the nice smile the candidates offer as you walk down to catch the bus; Instead to support what you believe will be the best course of action to promote UNSW’s environmental footprint on campus.

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