Oxford University Liberal Democrats will be using their stall at Freshers’ Fair to recruit the environmentally-minded amongst the new students.
For any student who signs up to the society for £1 at the Freshers’ Fair, the organisation will contribute to a reforestation project in Kenya. The aim is to offset the equivalent carbon dioxide emitted per person in an average week.
Mark Mills, Liberal Democrat councillor, OULD member and student of St. Edmund Hall is enthusiastic about the scheme, commenting, “People know that the Lib Dems care about the environment, and this is a practical chance to do something about it.”
The Green Freshers’ Week scheme is organised by Liberal Youth, the young people’s branch of the Liberal Democrats. The campaign is being implemented in roughly one hundred universities around the country. In addition to the offsetting initiative, every branch involved receives an environmental campaign pack containing bright green ‘switch it off stickers’ to be stuck next to light switches and appliances.
With the original goal of registering seven hundred new members to the party, the organisation has already exceeded its target. According to Joe Rinaldi Johnson, Vice-Chair Campaigns for Liberal Youth, Liverpool reported an almost 600% increase in new members compared to last year, with Glasgow, LSE and Reading reporting similar increases.
“These figures confirm a national trend,” said Johnson, “By joining Liberal Youth, students can choose to have a clear environmental conscience during the Freshers Week festivities.”
The scheme is not without its critics, however, with many seeing it as a green-wash for the Lib Dems, or an attempt to use climate change to draw freshers into party politics. One Magdalen student described it as “conscience-salving at best, conscience-exploitation at worst”.
Mae Penner, chair of the Environment and Ethics committee, warned that “providers of carbon offsets have often been shown to have flawed systems of calculation, which don’t take into account the permanence of offset projects or their own carbon footprints.”
She also expressed concern of over the choice of Kenya for the reforestation, “There are many concerns with such projects which can reduce biodiversity and contravene indigenous land rights.”
Penner emphasised, however, that these should not be a problem as long as the scheme has been thoroughly researched adding, “It is certainly positive that the Liberal Youth are trying to address the desire of young people to live more environmentally-considerate lives.”
Johnson remains emphatic about the scheme stating, “Environmentalism is a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy. We are the only major party today that is serious about climate change. We have been consistently ahead of the curve on environmental issues. [We] would take the tough steps necessary to build a new green economy based upon sound environmental principles.”