Ecoversity, more like ecotoryism

Words by Anonymous

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If there was a takeaway lesson from the plastic straw cull, it should be that corporate environmentalism proves to be a glass half empty approach to climate change. This is because banning plastic straws only serves a dual purpose for business; generally, it is a cost-cutting measure (one less liability!), that does not compromise the ability to make more sales. But surely, they too care for the cute baby seals, right?

Greenwashing is the act of carefully constructing an image to appear environmentally friendly, even though your actions and motives may suggest otherwise. Tools that will aid this process include the crafty usage of social media, marketing paraphernalia and distribution of free KeepCups; all of which barely make a dent in the structural issues borne from human-induced climate change (that is, large increases of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide and methane). We only need to look on our campus to see that Ecoversity — the University’s environmental engagement program — fundamentally fails in delivering its goal of “developing a campus culture that values and applies sustainable practices”. Their brand of sustainability instead focusses on the pillars of privilege, pollution and paradoxical statements.

The Plight of Privilege

The program is notorious for giving away Keep Cups but only if you can endure the dearth of intellectual conversations speaking ill of single-use plastics. This attitude is echoed through Ecoversity’s Facebook brand; with daily re-shares of content from “I fucking love Science” or making a captain’s call in support of quasi-green initiatives. On the 8 July 2018, Ecoversity posted an image, revealing its true stance on single-use plastics. The post was for eradicating “senseless packaging” from major supermarkets and also, one of utmost privilege. Ecoversity encouraged consumers to remove all plastic from the products, dump it in the shop, before making the transaction in the name of “sustainability”. When questioned about the motive in the comment section, the team concluded that: “if enough people participate it is sure to catch the attention of the CEOs and other decision makers”. Following this, was a pro-Monarchy post praising the Queen for opposing the use of straws at Sandringham House. “Yass Queen” indeed. Ecoversity love lauding the minimal efforts of upper society and their archaic approaches on addressing climate change.

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The only senseless thing about this post was how the program chose to deliver its message of environmental sustainability. The program clearly encourages it, but only for those in the upper echelons of society who can afford to participate. That is, if you’re a working student you should be ready to clean up the mess made by faux-woke eco-tories in aisle 5. This similar sentiment was present in the Emissions Trading Scheme — a policy that encouraged polluters to offset emissions through purchasing “carbon credits” from large swathes of forests in the Amazon or Indonesia. A murky message packaged in extreme privilege that is destructive to both the environment and the lives of working people, if I ever saw one.

If frothing over the plastic straw cull wasn’t enough, the program fails to communicate its purpose because no-one takes it seriously. At a campus with up to 30,000 enrolments, around 700 people have engaged with the page through a “like” on Facebook platform. A similar, piss-weak number makes up their Instagram audience. In an attempt to “grow” the audience, Ecoversity ran a meme competition engaging with submissions of “sustainability memes” in exchange for a Keep Cup prize pack. Climate change is indeed serious issue, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (fifth assessment report) suggesting that it is 95% certain that the rise in global mean temperatures is caused by humans. The same kind of humans who envision that peak promotion of sustainable practice is achieved through memes. But don’t let this detract from their activities on campus.

The principle of a paradox

Ecoversity is a prized cash-cow of the university’s marketing arm. However, no amount of sustainability memes can conceal the fact that the University of Adelaide is unashamedly an anti-environment campus. It boasts the Australian School of Petroleum Engineering; a field of work that exploits the environment for oil and gas reserves, delivers profits to the pockets of Gina Rhinhart. It holds investments in fossil fuels; putting student money into companies that that dig up coal for power. It embraces the defence force and military spending, recently announcing a plethora of partnerships with naval organisations. Some of these industries are the largest producers of greenhouse gasses and are unsustainable in the long run. Historically, the campus has a culture built upon mining money; a former student Reg Sprigg started up SANTOS and Beach Petroleum which certain faculties benefit financially from.

But investing in Ecoversity has paid significant dividends for the university. In 2013, the University of Adelaide was named a Fair-Trade Campus. The crux of it is this, Ecoversity pays an annual fee, around $900–1500, to retain its Fair-Trade Campus accreditation. The minimum requirements for this are simple: have the Student Union pass a motion in support of the program’s activities and run at least one Fair-Trade promo event per year. The accreditation is slapped onto disposable KeepCups and pamphlets given out at Open Days and O’Week, while the university pockets your cash to invest in climate-polluting industries. This is the epitome of greenwashing: actively engaging in destructive practices but still buying your way into the good books, the credentials of which should probably be reviewed and strenuously questioned.

The Guardian reported that several universities in the United Kingdom divested from fossil fuels; including the University of Edinburgh who will no longer receive endowments from climate-damaging industries. This was the result of student-led campaign that tipped off nation-wide change. At a crucial time for the health of both humankind and planet earth, students need to refocus and organise at grassroots level to intervene with power structures. We cannot blindly rely on straw bans, KeepCups and ecotoryism to save our fragile planet.

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Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at onditmag@gmail.com

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