Words by VEDANT AGRAWAL and JENNA STALLARD
Illustration by LEAH HAN
According to an article published in the September 2021 edition of Nature, a global survey conducted in 2021 found that 57% of young people feel powerless in the face of the climate crisis. Given the seemingly insurmountable nature of the crisis, we wanted to find out what keeps young people going when it comes to taking action on climate change. The Komaba Times 10th edition ran a feature called the Grand Water Fountain Conspiracy of Komaba Campus. The water server project that stemmed from the article has now become a pioneering initiative of the UTokyo Sustainable Network, a collaborative platform between different sustainability-related student organisations at The University of Tokyo. The network has grown dramatically, increasing its projects to include a Plant-Based Foods Project, the Komabatake「こまばたけ」 Community Garden project, and planning for a 2022 Sustainability Week. While these projects are gaining traction, students face considerable challenges not only in their projects but also from the pressure and anxieties of living in a world facing the climate and ecological crises. We interviewed members of key projects to find out more about what keeps them motivated and active in tackling the climate and ecological crises in the face of inaction by those with power and influence.
First-year student Maika Itadani has been working in the Plant-Based Foods project since September 2021. The project promotes a plant-based and sustainable lifestyle and demystifies veganism. The project also pushes for the introduction of a plant-based menu at campus cafeterias. Itadani wants to do more than put up posters; instead, she hopes to show how we can make tangible changes to our lifestyles by showing students the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet over an unsustainable meat-based diet. We asked Itadani what motivates her when the project encounters challenges. Her answer was surprising: “Personally, I cannot feel the urgent feeling to think that ‘we must change now’, but we should be (making urgent change).” Itadani explained that although passion might inspire you to start a project, it isn’t necessarily what keeps you going in the face of challenge. ‘‘I am doing my project because of the responsibility, but also in every meeting I can expand my horizons when talking to students from different backgrounds.’’ Itadani used to feel that she couldn’t make a difference in tackling the climate crisis, but after participating in the Plant-Based Project, she believes that individuals working in their local community can bring about meaningful change. Although we know that the climate crisis is upon us, it is unhealthy if our everyday lives are dominated by a sense of crisis. By working in the Plant-Based Project, Itadani is able to stay connected and active with the crisis in a balanced way while still living a healthy life.
Mahi Patki, a third-year undergraduate, was refilling her water bottle with unpleasant-tasting tap water in a particularly odorous campus bathroom sink when she realised that people would not move away from bottled water until it was easy to refill a bottle with tasty water on campus. Patki, a long-time advocate for reducing PET bottle waste, is working at the Water Server Project with a mission to improve access to water fountains at Komaba Campus. Patki said one of the biggest challenges of the project has been finding a sustainable alternative to provide おいしい water. New water servers are an attractive option, but come with a hefty carbon footprint and may require electricity. Similar to Itadani, Patki said it was the project team that has kept her going: “It’s the teammates that get me through it now.” We also asked Patki how she deals with feelings of anxiety about the climate and ecological crises. Her answer was simple: “Whenever I go down that track ... I actually just stop thinking about it.” Instead of letting anxiety grow, she chooses to take action. “You might as well live a life where you’re doing something as opposed to just resigning to fate and not doing anything about it.”
Second-year Master’s student Leah Han is a member of the Komabatake「こまばたけ」 Community Garden project, among many other initiatives – Han has her competent fingers in many eco-friendly pies. The project is restoring an abandoned greenhouse at the Komaba Campus to create a community garden that brings together international and local students, and ultimately the wider community. The Komabatake project hopes to promote sustainable community gardening. It is this combination of sustainability in practice and a desire to bring people together that led Han to establish the UTokyo Sustainable Network in the first place. While the issue of environmental sustainability itself is essential, Han says that she ultimately finds motivation in the meaningful nature of the work itself: “I agree with the importance of sustainability, but it’s not something that constantly moves me forward.” Grassroots projects help Han feel some control over her future and that of the planet.
Through these interviews, we examined what keeps young people going in the face of a seemingly insurmountable climate crisis. A recurring theme was that while these projects were sparked by a passionate response to the issue, the motivation to keep going in the face of difficulties is derived from the commitment to action over inaction and to the personal relations we build while participating in these projects.
The UTokyo Sustainable Network is always welcoming new members. If you want to work on one of these projects or start your own, check out our website at: https://utokyosusnet.wixsite.com/utsn?lang=en
Jenna Stallard and Vedant Agrawal are undergraduate students in the Programs in English at Komaba (PEAK). Leah Han is a postgraduate student in the Graduate Program on Environmental Sciences.
THE KOMABA TIMES ISSUE 11, APRIL 2022