In a war, would a leader be praised for naming a general?
This week, Provost Linda Doyle announced the creation of a new Vice-President for Biodiversity and Climate Action and an accompanying office at College. When she did, she promised that the role would not be symbolic, but that it would have a meaningful effect on College policy.
This is the first time in Trinity’s history that such a role has been created, so it’s easy to look to this as a victory for a pro-climate response at College.
However, we are currently living through one of the fastest extinction events Earth has ever experienced. Climate scientists are unanimous in stating that climate change is the greatest threat that we face as a species and as a planet. We are at war with a global crisis that we created for ourselves.
Yes, the new role is needed if College is to take tangible climate action. But until we see that it is ready to take substantive action to force Trinity to become more sustainable, we should not consider this a victory.
Of course, having a vice president for climate action is better than not having one, and successes in gender equality thanks to a similar role – the vice-president for equality, diversity and inclusion – indicate that these types of offices can bring about tangible change.
However, it is hard to tell whether successes come because the position has been created or whether they become as a result of the same pressures that forced College to make the position in the first place.
If College is to be a leader on climate action, this new vice-president must hit the ground running – but, most importantly, must be taken seriously by the new provost. They must have clear targets and mandates, and must be held accountable to see them through.
Climate change was central to the provost election, but at times solutions appeared superficial. This is perhaps unsurprising considering solutions may not always be popular (cutting down on academics’ trips abroad every year is one good example).
Many will applaud Doyle for creating this position, but until the person who is appointed to the role proves that they are up to the task at hand – making College a proactive leader in the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced – there is little point in praising her.