UCSD Climate Strike Activist Peter Sloan on Why the UC Needs a Green New Deal


Kristina Stahl / The Triton

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UC San Diego Green New Deal says it is a movement that focuses on organizing a community of students, staff, and faculty to address the ongoing climate crisis. They will be hosting their first demonstration today. It will include a march and rally calling for climate education, improved carbon neutral goals, and the formulation of a UC-wide Green New Deal. 

Peter Sloan is a second year PhD student in the UCSD Music Department, and he is an organizer with UCSD Green New Deal

Q: What is UCSD Green New Deal?

A: We are a grassroots organization of UCSD staff, students, and faculty hoping to bring together a lot [of] organizing [that is] already happening within the University of California around sustainability issues. We are hoping to galvanize people around the question of what would it mean for the UC system and for UCSD in particular to participate in a green new deal. 

If a green new deal is a total economic and social transformation to rapidly decarbonize our energy system and our transportation system and our food system, then it is not going to be something that the federal government can do on its own through legislation. 

It is something that really every institution and individual has to take ownership of, similar to what happened with the original New Deal. We’re kicking it off with this march, but we are going to continue to be working on this for the coming year and for years to come. 

What makes UCSD Green New Deal different from other campus environmental advocacy organizations?

I’m not really aware of another organized group right now that is really focused on calling on the administration to rapidly decarbonize. We’re calling on the UC system to reduce its own emissions down to zero. Every campus is supposed to be carbon neutral by 2025, and we don’t believe that they’re on track to meet those goals. The UC system has a zero waste goal of 2020. No campus is going to meet that goal.

The UC Office of the President established these goals under [current president] Janet Napolitano, but they didn’t devote any resources to actually meeting them, and there’s no accountability if and when they fail to meet them. So we want to shine a spotlight on that and exert some pressure on the administration to actually meet these goals.

What does decarbonization look like?

It’s a hugely complex question, and we need a lot of people working on all aspects of it. But I can tell you a few things off the bat.

There is a lot of unsustainable food being sold by campus food vendors. For example, meat is a very carbon-intensive, land use-intensive, water-intensive approach to producing protein. There’s really no effort at the administrative level to substantially reduce the amount of meat being sold on campus. 

There are efforts to reduce parking and encourage people to get to campus in other ways, but the resources required to actually provide those alternatives are not there. We’d love to see a greater investment in a whole new fleet of electric buses that are servicing the whole San Diego area, so students can get to the campus from anywhere in the city. There is the trolley that is being built. We need more of that and we need it very fast.

We would love to see a drastic reduction in faculty and administrative air travel. Air travel is one of the most carbon-intensive things people do. 

There are just a lot of initiatives where some progress is being made towards them already, but we want to see it happen much faster.

One of the demands for Friday’s Climate Strike is that UCSD teaches students about climate change. Would this include a new undergraduate course requirement?

The changing climate, ecological breakdown, and the resulting social transformation is the story of the 21st century. Really every academic discipline needs to center on that reality. Some general education requirement where everyone takes some sort of climate course might be one way of doing that. I think that would be something for the faculty to look into how they want to implement. 

It’s shockingly difficult, especially for graduate students, to actually find courses on campus that are about the climate crisis and are about solutions to it including the social transformation that’s needed. 

At a minimum, we certainly want more courses offered.

What are the First Friday events that UCSD Green New Deal is hosting?

We’re taking a cue from the Fridays for Future School Walk Out Movement. That was really kicked off by the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. We don’t want to just have a march and then send everyone home. 

We want to use the march to get people plugged into the ongoing campaign. We want to bring people together to have a conversation about what a green new deal at the University of California will look like. We think the best way to do that is to just have a forum once a month. 

Those Friday meetings are going to be a place for people to network around these issues and make progress and make plans as to how we’re going to pressure the administration to act.

We are going to need the Chancellors and the Vice Chancellors and the Office of the President and the Regents to make addressing the climate crisis a priority by devoting the resources required. 

What we’ve been told is that when the administration sees that there is a sustained energy around an issue coming from the grassroots level within the campus community, then that can actually be effective at changing institutional priorities.  

UCSD Green New Deal held a Climate Action March at 11:00 a.m. on Friday at the Silent Tree followed by a rally at 12:00 p.m. at the Triton statue. The first First Friday meeting will be held on October 4 at 4:00 p.m. at the Natural Sciences Building Auditorium.

Editor Note: This is not an interview transcript. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and length. Peter Sloan is a staff writer for The Triton’s Opinion section and writes the Fire Season column about Climate Change.  

Mo Al Elew is Senior Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow him @SoloMune