28 April 2022

The University of East London (UEL) is committed to action on climate, with the Pollution Pods featuring in a new nationwide campaign demonstrating the ways that universities are actively tackling the climate emergency.

This comes as just four in ten parents of 16–18-year-olds in London believe that UK universities are equipping the next generation of students with knowledge about climate change, states new research from Universities UK

Although the University of East London (UEL) has made efforts to publicise its sustainability strategy and engage with local communities, only 43 per cent of parents in London recognise that universities are researching solutions to climate change, and only 19 per cent think they communicate to the public about their efforts. 

The findings come as universities across the UK launch a major new campaign backed by actress and environmentalist Lily Cole, to reaffirm their commitment to tackling the climate emergency through researching solutions, working with local communities, and equipping students and the public with much-needed climate literacy. 

UEL acknowledged in new campaign

The University of East London has joined forces with universities across the country to set the record straight on their commitment to climate action and demonstrate the remarkable breadth of ways that universities are actively tackling the climate emergency through research, business and community interaction, and efforts to equip every graduate with climate literacy, no matter what subject they study.

Included in the campaign are the Pollution Pods, a set of domes where the air quality, smell and temperature recreate the pollution of five locations on three continents: London, Beijing, São Paulo, New Delhi and Tautra (Norway).

Artist and UEL reader, Michael Pinsky, created the Pollution Pod to explore if art could change people's perception of, and action around, climate change. The pods aim to highlight the health impact of the climate crisis, with air pollution killing around 7 million people globally each year.

Michael Pinsky worked with architecture, visual arts and engineering students at UEL to bring the pods to life, making stops in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Glasgow for the COP26 summit, plus Bonn and Cologne in Germany.

Michael Pinksy said: "The aim of the Pollution Pods is to get people to engage with something that affects their everyday lives, rather than something that seems very remote like a polar bear on a melting glacier. The pods convey the visceral experience of air pollution, the clinical expertise on the harm to our bodies, and the impact on people in the UK and around the world."

As visitors experienced the pollution in each pod, students explained to them how poor air quality contributes to illness and disease, with children especially vulnerable to the effects.

Orseer Gbashah, one of the UEL architecture students on the Pollution Pod tour, said: "We must engage people in different ways. The best thing about being involved with the pods is the reaction you get from the public. They might be unaware of air pollution levels, yet when they go in the pods and come out the other side, they are more educated and enlightened."

Public looking to universities to equip the population with green skills

Despite this apparent lack of awareness, parents see universities as crucial to delivering on the Department for Education's sustainability strategy - published last week - with 64 per cent believing that going to university would equip their child with skills and knowledge that can help make the world a better place, and 70 per cent thinking a university degree is essential for those contemplating a career in tackling climate change. 

And given the opportunity, more than one in three UK adults (37 per cent) would consider higher education as a route to upskilling to realign their career with efforts to combat the climate emergency.

Professor Steve West CBE, President, Universities UK, said: "We need urgent and ambitious climate solutions and must ensure future generations are given the chance to build the careers they need to tackle this emergency head on. Universities are crucial to this. A university education can make all the difference in equipping students with the knowledge and skills to help them to make a positive impact on the planet, whatever path they choose.

"Evidence shows that universities are centre-stage in the UK's climate action efforts, from researching bold and innovative solutions, to mobilising businesses and local communities in ways that benefit us all. As a sector we can do even more to ensure the public hear this vital message, and that is what this campaign is all about."

Related topics