The Bristol 2015 Student Day, held at At-Bristol on 21 April 2015, was all about the future. Cabot Institute director Rich Pancost opened the day with the remark: “This is your planet, it is no longer my generation’s.” What he says is true: young people are soon to inherit positions as policy makers, CEOs and decision makers. Students’ visions for the future may soon become a reality, so what are they?

The student day was orchestrated to produce a dialogue for the University of Bristol and UWE students’ opinions on some of the planet’s greatest problems. The thoughts generated will become part of Bristol’s message to the world at COP21, a global sustainable innovation forum in Paris later this year.

The discussions ranged from local cycling routes to global overpopulation. The breadth of topics covered meant discussions oscillated between worldwide concerns and university-based issues. Regardless of scale, the prevailing desire was for increased suitability for the future generations.

On a university level, the participants expressed discontent with institutions’ reliance on fossil fuels, with many agreeing they would like to see increased investment in sustainable energy for their organisations. Financial returns from green energy may be long term, but if any institution can expect longevity it’s a university – why should their energy solutions not reflect that?

Waste reduction was an additional point for local improvement with participants venturing ideas such as a ban on single use coffee cups and increased recycling opportunities on campus. There was no shortage of creative ideas; the main issue was implementation and education. How can young people convince their less green-minded peers that such schemes are essential? Food waste was of additional concern, with unanimous support for schemes such as the Bristol Skipchen. The desire to see projects such as this affiliated with the universities was a common vision.

Naturally, food was an issue close to the heart of many students and discussion quickly progressed to agriculture. Organic food was considered a luxury for personal health purposes, but its environmental benefit was surprisingly contentious. Some students believed that large scale, non-organic, industrialised farming is more energy efficient and produces fewer emissions, while others believe smaller organic farms are the future of agriculture.

The boundaries of the discussion were pushed both mentally and geographically as the day progressed. The younger generation’s global responsibilities were also high priority for discussion. Overpopulation in the developing world is putting strain on resources – how can Bristol students help? Food waste reduction was high on the list of solutions, as well as the universal need for more environmentally attractive power solutions, from developed to developing countries.

The enthusiasm of the participants to build a better, greener and more sustainable future made the discussion both interesting and beneficial. If there is one thing the day showed, it’s that young people have the desire for long-term solutions. After all, it is the millions of small ideas such as the ones discussed at At-Bristol that will shape the future for us all.

This blog post was written by Cabot Institute member Keri McNamara, a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. It originally appeared on the Cabot Institute blog.

 

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