Illustration by Joaquín Kunkel

Sustainability and Convenience

Why should we care about sustainability on our campus?

Oct 14, 2017

As a newly active member of the campus’ most misunderstood villain, Ecoherence, I believe in sustainability over convenience. I see the inevitable path of capped student printing and plastic minimalism as something that benefits the sustainability of this campus with respect to both economic and environmental concerns. This is not a popular view among the vocal members of our student body, as expressed in angry posts and comments on NYUAD Forum and NYUAD Student Life.
From the indignant fingers of students, I have heard excuses for forsaking sustainability ranging from, It’s too expensive to It isn’t democratic to Plastic isn’t the biggest sustainability issue. These are, of course, not direct quotes but the sentiment is there.
With students from over 100 countries gathered together in an U.S. American university of high-level academia, many individuals will throw the proverbial kitchen sink of hot social issues at any restriction or perceived difficulty.
Getting your bag searched? I have rights!
Losing 500 mL water bottles? But I need them to take a test! That’s unilateral! I want a vote!
Sadly, a majority vote would likely see most—if not all—mandatory pro-environmental practices thrown out the window along with a couple of crumpled 500 mL Al Ain bottles. As much as I can empathize with people whose routine has been disrupted by sustainability initiatives, I would ask them to look at the bigger picture.
Will removing plastic water bottles and lowering energy consumption on one Abu Dhabi-based campus single-handedly halt climate change? Nope.
However, it will create a lasting impression on future students, and it will hopefully cause people to consider how to improve the situation looking forward. And that just might stop climate change. Every statistic we see on the environmental health of our planet taking a nose dive is made up billions of individuals choosing to place value on something else. Changing our daily habits can change the status quo. We can contribute to a more environmentally sound approach to a variety of areas, not just water consumption and excessive air conditioning. 18 degrees, seriously?
And the world really needs the environmental equivalent of a vitamin c boost. In just the past year, 33% of Bangladesh was temporarily under water due to torrential rain, two major hurricanes struck several U.S. American states, territories and Caribbean Islands in what almost seemed like a cruel mockery by mother nature in response to the election of a president who stated that climate change is a Chinese hoax.
Looking back to Saadiyat, one of the most common arguments I hear against environmental initiatives is that there are so many other more important international issues like world hunger, social inequality and rampant immorality.
While these are serious issues, they are framed by the idea that we have an Earth. If humans pollute the Earth to the point of inhabitability, social issues will quickly take a back seat to mere survival on a planet too choked with carbon dioxide, sulfur-based compounds and not-so-fresh water to support us.
Realistically, there are millions, if not billions, of people who would give anything to have the privileges this campus affords us. We should not take that for granted by doubling our food waste in one month and throwing plastic wrappers into the paper bin.
Ecoherence is misunderstood because many of us are passionate about a topic that others consider to be an attack upon their way of life. Before jumping to this conclusion, I would ask people to seriously consider how difficult purchasing a reusable container or choking down that last piece of overcooked chicken really is in the big picture.
Buy a BPA-free water bottle, use that thermos your grandma gave you last holiday season when you really wanted cash instead, avoid printing out entire books. It is the little things that will ultimately make a difference, because it is the little things that create a pattern, and it is that pattern that will determine what this planet looks like 50 years from now.
Jhamal Fanning is a contributing writer. Email him at
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