LSE and the Climate Emergency

Written by Gabriela Cabaña and Catherine Whittle

A growing movement in LSE, the Climate Emergency Collective, is asking for the university to join the rapid efforts to address the climate emergency. A net zero institution by 2025 —as per Extinction Rebellion’s deadline— is nothing short of the necessary goal. However, we must be careful not to transform this into a new box-ticking exercise. It would be a waste of time and energy to pretend to achieve this objective by trimming the edges of some carbon-intensive activities, or relying on off-setting strategies while keeping LSE functioning intact. Crucial for making this process a truly green transition is to acknowledge that the way this university works is energy and resource intensive, to a level that demands a radical rethinking of its whole structure.

LSE is not alone in this. All our higher education institutions have been built on the (false) assumption that nature and energy come cheap, with the hope of expanding their material footprints ad infinitum. This cannot continue. Not if we want to keep our planet habitable.

People like to argue for an immediate response to the climate emergency by reasoning that climate change “will affect us all.” That’s true, to a point, but glosses over the huge inequities of climate breakdown. It’s the world’s most marginalised people, especially indigenous people, who in many cases are already suffering and even losing their lives because of climate change.  

The LSE prides itself on being a global leader, as our 2030 strategy reiterates. What could be a more important challenge than redefining how learning can happen in a post-fossil fuel, ecologically respectful university? Rather than just educating us to change other places, why not start right here? For instance: how do we escape from our addiction to building new facilities, as construction is one of the more polluting industries? How do we move away from the conference model in which we travel overseas for a 15 minute talk? 

To become net-zero by 2025 would be a way for LSE to refuse future complicity and declare that no people or place should be sacrificed for the convenience of others. Especially as our university receives people from all over the world, we have a unique opportunity to imagine what type of university LSE could be if it put environmental justice and an integral project of decolonisation at the centre.

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