With one arm in a cast, UCM student Arthur Bribosia (23) accepted the annual Student Award last Monday. A few days earlier, when he heard that his movement Students for Climate had won the award, the Belgian student was overjoyed, climbed a tree, fell out of it and broke his arm. Rector Rianne Letschert gave him a bouquet of flowers, a little statue and one thousand euros: too much for him to carry in one hand.
Maastricht for climate
Let’s go back to January 2019. About fifty people had signed up for the first Students for Climate meeting. “It was winter, cold, but they came anyway”, says Bribosia. Inspired by students in his native Brussels, he and two others had created a Facebook page called Students for Climate. “The seed had been planted; it grew very quickly.” With the help of local organisations like Fossil Free Maastricht and Milieudefensie, Students for Climate organised its first climate march in March of that year. Bribosia had never attended a protest before. “It was a huge success”, he says. About three thousand protesters showed up, “students, but definitely also other people from Maastricht”. The group soon became Maastricht for Climate.
Just a lot of noise
Movements like his are important because they allow people to channel their frustration, says Bribosia. “With our protests, we are putting pressure on the government and making more and more people aware of environmental issues.” Another advantage is that it gives people who are already actively involved “the energy to keep going”. And so the movement didn’t just organise a second and a third march, but also took on other projects, like a green guide for students in Maastricht. “It tells them where they can purchase sustainable groceries, for example, or eco-friendly ways to get around.” Together with a couple of local movements the club also formulated eight demands, “because movements like ours are often accused of just making a lot of noise, but not actually contributing ideas.” The demands include free public transport, a ban on single-use plastic, and increased support for local entrepreneurs rather than large companies.
Although Bribosia is very happy with the award, he hopes that Maastricht University didn’t give it to Maastricht for Climate just to boost its own image. “To the outside world, UM presents itself as an institute that is very concerned with sustainability. It’s wonderful if UM is carbon-neutral, of course, but I believe there is so much more they could do. It’s nice to make sure that coffee cups are being recycled, but the university can really make a difference by incorporating sustainability into its study programmes.” Bribosia is of the opinion that the programmes need to radically change. “The university system should focus on the needs and challenges of future generations rather than the needs and challenges of the current market economy.” Bribosia would like to see that all students who leave UM have learnt the basics of sustainability “and understand how climate change is intertwined with our history, science, economy, politics and culture”.
Additionally, Bribosia believes that UM could take much more social responsibility. “Why does the university have a contract with a large multinational like Ricoh rather than a local print shop from Maastricht, for example? And why does UM enter into contracts with large catering companies rather than local farmers and producers? It involves a lot of legislation, but universities are major players. They have the power to change the system.”