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My old college and a green light for brainlessness


AN EMAIL from my old college announcing a ‘Green Giving Day’ has just landed in my inbox.  I shake my head.

I grew up in a family unused to further education.  All of my parents’ generation left school at fourteen. They were dockers; they were Fleet Street printers; they worked in small East End factories making shoes or machining eiderdowns. Anyone who passed the School Certificate was quickly diverted from further dalliance with the classroom and sent out to supplement the family income. The books in my grandparents’ house, though revered, could be counted on your fingers.

When the school-leaving age was raised to 15, my generation were allowed to stay at school long enough to sit their O-levels. I was the second in my family to enjoy an extension of this reprieve for a further five years of sixth form and university. This, of course, was in the days before academia had become an international business, and State and County Major Scholarships still guaranteed assiduous working-class students a debt-free post-graduate future.

I was not particularly assiduous.  Nevertheless, I ended up with a respectable degree, and, more importantly, with an ingrained respect for honest and painstaking scholarship: the kind of scholarship which requires acknowledgement and examination of all the facts before drawing conclusions, and which assumes an open-mindedness willing to adjust those conclusions, should further evidence make them untenable. Three years of presenting essays to serious academics was enough to convince me that omitting essential considerations to bolster some pet theory of my own would meet with short shrift.

So why did I shake my head when this email from my college’s Development Office arrived? What is so disturbing about a ‘Green Giving Day’ to finance ‘sustainability improvements’? 

Here are the projects which are envisaged:

·         Setting a target and roadmap to achieve Net Zero

·         Measuring and improving the biodiversity of the gardens (eg purchasing camera traps and other kit for a team of student researchers)

·         Creating opportunities for students to gain the practical skills and knowledge needed to make a positive difference for the climate in their career (by inviting alumni speakers, raising awareness of college initiatives, providing practical opportunities to support the biodiversity of the gardens)

·         Further decarbonisation projects on the college site

·         Creating a working group of alumni with expertise in sustainability to advise the college.

There can be no objection to improving the biodiversity of the gardens, or to insulating college buildings in an effort to keep down costs, but the use of such terms as ‘Net Zero’ and ‘decarbonisation’, and the goal of making ‘a positive difference for the climate’ suggest that this initiative is being ideologically driven by ‘academics’ who have sold out to the climate-change agenda and in so doing have abandoned any pretension to either detachment or honest, painstaking scholarship. They appear to have been convinced by the BBC that ‘The Science’ can be settled by consensus, and to be content with turning a blind eye to the many inconvenient truths overlooked by the likes of Al Gore. 

There is no ‘consensus’. Those who take the time to investigate for themselves cannot remain unaware of the many, many eminent scientists offering well-evidenced grounds for contesting the hypothesis of carbon-dioxide-induced climate devastation: far too many for any self-respecting university to be justified in promoting the unproved, and unprovable, belief that the ‘carbon footprints’ of mere human beings are either responsible for, or capable of seriously mitigating, the workings of a climatic system awesome in its complexity. Why waste time and money, and destroy all academic credibility, by rallying alumni to proclaim such controversial dogmas to the next generation of students as if they were established facts?

Details of the Green Giving Day project are introduced by a pious word salad: ‘The environment we curate has been handed down to us by people who believed in the power of education, and who had the courage to take pioneering steps towards a better world.  We have a responsibility to preserve and continue their work.’

One might question what kind of a ‘better world’ the promoters of Net Zero imagine would result from producing ‘a colder, hungrier population or massive depopulation.’  More to the point in the present instance: what would those ‘people who believed in the power of education’ think of successors who are no longer encouraging students to examine the evidence and think for themselves, but enlisting them in an emotive and highly politicised crusade based on questionable assumptions? This is not education, it is inculcation. It is not teaching, it is preaching. 

There are, of course, useful measures which could be taken by colleges amply provided with grounds to promote greater sustainability in areas, such as food production, which are now under threat from government climate policy. For instance, to compensate in some small measure for the land which is being lost beneath hedge-to-hedge solar panelling, they could turn over some part of their gardens to the production of organic food and orchards, providing not only nutritious meals for their students, but an opportunity for members of Junior, Middle and Senior Common Rooms to enjoy healthful breaks from the excessive mental exertion which appears to be addling their brains, and a greater spirit of camaraderie as they unite to tend their crops. This need not preclude possibilities for enhancing biodiversity: space could still be made available for hedgerows and wild-flower plantations, and perhaps even a hive or two for the honey bee.

Enough of flights of fancy! Unfortunately, my old college is not alone in its proselytising fervour. When universities are promoting such partisan ‘green’ initiatives as the 1 in 5 Project, ‘a framework to allow the academic community to focus some of its collective brainpower on climate and biodiversity’ which urges students to skew their final dissertations in any subject towards highlighting and tackling the fashionable doomsday obsessions of Greta Thunberg, scholarly integrity appears to be a lost cause. 

The word ‘green’ has become enhanced in recent years by all kinds of favourable connotations: environmentally aware; nature-loving; anti-pollution; holy; holier-than-thou; etc; etc.  Perhaps it’s time to give a bit more consideration to some alternative, more traditional, synonyms: ignorant; uninformed; incompetent; inexperienced; uninstructed; unpractised; unseasoned (cf Polonius to Ophelia, ‘You speak like a green girl’). No doubt you can think of many more.

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Gillian Dymond
Gillian Dymond
Gillian Dymond is 78, a mother and grandmother living in the north-east of England.

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