Universities: destroyers of life or opportunity for biodiversity?

ALERT member Jean-Philippe Puyravaud tells us that universities are failing to protect biodiversity even on their own campuses:

  Lonely blackbuck: Is it enough to teach nature conservation but not do anything about it?

Lonely blackbuck: Is it enough to teach nature conservation but not do anything about it?

Harvard students have organized a blockade of the university, calling for an open dialogue with administrators about divesting Harvard’s funds in fossil-fuel corporations as a way to help change the face of the energy industry.  The reason for this heated action was the university Board’s total dismissal of divestment as a tool to fight harmful climate change.

Finally, the intellectual elites of the world are beginning to face the absurdity of present energy-use policy.  But when will this happen for biodiversity?  

We ecologists usually think corrupt industrialists and large-scale plantation corporations are the cause of ecosystem destruction.  But if you sit at your desk in your own university, what do you see?  In most cases you observe a total lack of concern for local biodiversity.

Take Pondicherry University in south-east India—one of the few universities in India with a Department of Ecology.  It has a 300-hectare campus and is located on the dry evergreen-forest belt, one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country.

For thirty years, ecologists have suggested ecological restoration in parts of the campus.  Some have even attempted to create anti-erosion structures.  

Today, at best, only the parts of campus that are neglected by the administration can be thought of “natural”.  Otherwise, no Vice-Chancellor, administration, or department was in the least interested in maintaining biodiversity in even a tenth of their campus.

Another example is the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Chennai, India.  IIT-Chennai is India’s equivalent of MIT—a prestigious school for intellectual elites.  The campus was originally part of Guindy National Park and a reserve for the blackbuck, a near-threatened antelope.

The first action of IIT-Chennai was to erect a wall between the new campus and the rest of the national park, splitting the black buck population.  The forest officer at the time approved it and no one thought antelopes needed open space to run and feel comfortable. Today, IIT is attempting to start a program in Urban Ecology but is failing to manage the biodiversity of its own campus.

The Harvard example should resonate widely if we want to change our societies for the better.  Universities should be places where energy and local biodiversity are properly managed.  

But don’t wait for your administration to act.  Don’t wait for your teachers.  Demand that part of your campus becomes a real biodiversity repository.  And ensure that it happens.