With climate change conference COP27 in the rear-view mirror, there has been a lot of talk around TU Delft about the climate crisis. Most recently, the opinion piece by Mels Habold raised the question of why so few TU Delft students engage in activism. I applaud Mels for pointing out the blind faith in technological innovation that is rampant in engineering circles, and I encourage everyone to read his article. However, I feel we have overlooked the fact that people feel overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the crisis, and find it hard to believe that the actions of a single person can have an impact.
I personally identify very strongly with the above sentiment, and I bet that a lot of people who read it do as well. I am also not here to prove that sentiment wrong. On the contrary, I spend a lot of my free time reading about the root causes of climate change, and I have yet to shake off the feeling that I am completely powerless to take meaningful action against it.
That is why I respect climate activists so much. Because, unlike Mels, I have never glued myself to any objects despite supporting the cause. In fact, I will emphasise the impostor syndrome that is plaguing me while writing this opinion piece. But just like many of my fellow students, I have this urge inside of me to do something about the crisis we are facing. And just like my fellow students, I have no idea where to direct this urge.
We are all just students. We worry about exams and deadlines. We worry about performance anxiety and burnout. We worry about unaffordable housing and the rising cost of living. We worry about our crushing student loans and about getting lucrative but unfulfilling jobs to pay off those loans. On top of it all, we worry that the world after we graduate will be less habitable than when we enrolled. How are we students supposed to have the mental space left for climate action?
What we need is a critical look at TU Delft’s strategy
The good news is that solving the problems I just outlined is climate action. Climate change is a hyperobject that affects every aspect of our lives. This is overwhelming, but it also means that every societal issue we students and citizens want to tackle can be imbued with climate action. As a university, we can create a campus where all courses and projects have the ultimate goal of taking on this existential threat to humanity.
This is why decisions such as TU Delft’s growth strategy are so baffling to me. How will we offer more study places if we can’t offer sufficient housing, financial support or personal attention at our current levels? How is growth supposed to solve the problems of tomorrow if it will worsen the problems of today? Students already have to sit on the stairs of the lecture halls to attend lessons while professors report being overworked. If society really is ‘screaming for engineers’, why not invest in more resources for students to graduate on time?
We are making great strides towards sustainability with energy producing buildings and geothermal power on campus, but what is the point if at the same time we destroy social sustainability in our obsessive pursuit of growth? What we need is a critical look at TU Delft’s strategy, and that is where students have a big role to play.
The climate crisis is global, but its root causes are local. We are not world leaders at COP27, but students of TU Delft. We cannot write national climate policies, but we can shape the sustainability of our campus. Climate action is not only eating less meat and taking more trains. It is also organising our community for sustainable and affordable housing on campus, advocating for good working conditions for professors, researchers and staff, and championing serious financial, educational and mental health support for our peers.
Let it be clear: you can have an impact. A sustainable future is only possible with collective, transparent and bottom-up decision-making. As students, teachers and employees, we can put an end to the climate crisis, right here at TU Delft.
Antonio Küng is a master's student at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering.
- The discussion on climate activism started with this column by 3mE teacher Bob van Vliet.