This week saw Central Saint Martins' first Climate Emergency Assembly. Hundreds of staff and students gathered to begin the process of creative and collective action in response to climate change. Speakers came from across UAL and included current students, Lily Stevens, Lily Tonkin-Wells and Johnny Maclean. Here, we share their speech in full.
"Over the course of the past year, it is the actions of the world’s youth which have brought the reality of the dire climate emergency to the forefront of our attention. School strikes where millions of students compromise their education is evidence enough that this issue must be addressed urgently. Equally, Extinction Rebellion’s global protests have shifted the dialogue around climate break-down to magnify the extent of the current crisis.
As our future becomes increasingly uncertain It appears that we can no longer solely rely on the government to save our planet. And so, motivated by the energy of the XR Spring rebellion, students and staff themselves gathered to ask the question: what must Central Saint Martins do in the face of the climate emergency?
We drew up a list of demands and radical proposals for change that addressed all areas of university life from curriculum to carbon neutrality. One of our key demands was to hold a Climate Assembly, creating a platform for the students, staff and management of this institution to work together.
Through close collaboration since the start of term, we have worked hard towards translating this demand from a promise into a working reality.
Universities are sites of knowledge and innovation. We are privileged to be studying at one of the top art and design schools in the world and we are uniquely positioned to approach this global issue with creativity and resourcefulness.
We should be creating a framework that inspires other educational institutions to change. We believe that taking the agency at a local level here at Central Saint Martins is the best focus of our energy contributing to wide-spread national and international efforts. As students, we want to be proud of our universities as sites of innovative leadership and to feel that they accurately represent the student body.
It is not with aggression and blame that we approach this process, but rather with an understanding that this crisis is affecting us all. Our collective engagement is essential; the problems we face are complex and interconnected. We hope to develop a culture of active participation, listening and sharing.
Each individual in the room has elected to be here today. Let’s welcome the fact that we all have different lived experiences and skills. This is a democratic process and a space for non-hierarchical discussion, where we can bridge the gaps between disciplines and learn from each other. All voices are valid and your opinion in this assembly is recognised as equal to that of any other.
The hope is that this informed approach will provide researched-based solutions for how the university can implement change. And so, while we can applaud what this assembly might promise, this is also a good moment to recognise the practical task at hand.
It is quite easy to make demands, quite easy to say that we want things to change, but it is far harder to decide how we get there.
So, this is the beginning of a much longer process. It will take commitment, yes, but we cannot afford to be complacent. Our awareness must be put into action. We must take on responsibility as individuals in addressing climate break-down. Expecting others to change things for us is no longer an option. We must work here to create the changes ourselves.
If we hope to avert climate catastrophe, we need to translate demands into concrete, viable and watertight proposals for the radical change we want to see. We will need to be creative but also rigorous and pragmatic. This is our opportunity for agency, let’s see what we can do."
Co-written by Lily Stevens (BA Fine Art), Lily Tonkin-Wells (BA Fine Art) and Johnny Maclean (BA Fashion: Fashion Design with Marketing) from XR UAL.
The outcomes of the Climate Emergency Assembly will be documented and shared throughout this academic year. Read more about the hopes of staff and students heading into this process.