Student - January 7, 2020

University and Extinction Rebellion to enter discussions on 13 January

Text:
Luuk Zegers

Environmental action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) and WUR will enter into dialogue regarding climate change. Kamiel Verhelst (22), XR: ‘We want to convince the Board and the WUR community that the university can be of bigger influence in the climate crisis.’

The climate march in Wageningen, March 2019. © Extinction Rebellion Wageningen

Verhelst is a first-year master’s student in Geo-Information Science. Besides his studies, he is also actively involved with XR. ‘On 13 January, we will meet with Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol and other representatives of the Executive Board.’ XR is making three “demands”, Verhelst says. ‘We want WUR to declare a state of climate emergency; that it does what is necessary to reduce its negative climate impact and to increase the positive impact; and the university democracy to be renewed.’

Demand 1: state of emergency
‘I understand that there are people who think that the university shouldn’t declare a state of emergency because it is an impartial institution. We believe that declaring a state of emergency is not a biased or political choice, but an observation of facts; climate change isn’t left- nor right-wing. Several WUR scientists are involved in the IPCC, and because of WUR’s leading role in this field in several relevant areas, we think that this institute proclaiming such a state of emergency could make a huge impact.’

Demand 2: sustainability
‘We also think that WUR could be much more sustainable. WUR has taken major steps to become climate neutral. Many things are going well. But we also see plenty of points for improvement, such as the travel policy. Other universities impose every journey up to a given distance to be by train. This is not yet the case for WUR. This means that serious steps can be taken in this aspect. We also refer to indirect sustainability, such as through the curriculum. There are currently quite a few courses in which attention to climate change would be relevant, but in which it is not discussed. That is a missed opportunity, since climate change is the biggest problem there is.’

Kamiel Verhelst
Kamiel Verhelst

‘We’re also worried that the university administration is approaching the climate crisis from a view that is too technological, as if technology were the holy grail that will easily solve everything. But a lot of WUR research shows how multidimensional and societal the problem truly is. We therefore hope that the university board will look at and communicate about this crisis in a broader scope. We won’t make it with technology alone.’

Demand 3: better democracy
‘We believe that decision-making at WUR could be a lot more democratic. The University of Exeter is a good example of how this could be done: they have appointed a committee of students and staff to see how the university can best approach specific subjects to combat climate change. This committee drafted a plan, which has been adopted by the university. We think that democratisation is also important in the Wageningen context. When it comes to solutions for climate change, there is no room for the personal interests of administrators.’

Dialogue
‘With this discussion, we also want to be an example for other critical voices within WUR. More dialogue is one of the priority areas of this university. We held a climate march in May, and at the time, the university said they wanted to talk. Some time has passed since May, and we haven’t been sitting still, so they really haven’t just forgotten about us. That’s why we are now taking the initiative. If the university does not organise the discussions, we will.’

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