‘If we can start a climate crisis, we can finish it’ – Regent’s alumna

Caroline Wagner
Caroline Wagner

Ever since studying at Regent’s, Caroline has been developing her passion and professional interest in agriculture, the politics of food production and security, and the associated environmental impacts. 
Currently working on a project to advocate the ban of single use plastics, Caroline spoke with Regent’s about microplastics, the global climate crisis, and what universities, students and alumni can do make a difference.

‘Plastic never disappears,’ Caroline says. ‘Instead, it breaks down into sand-like particles. Plastics in the ocean are made of whole pieces of debris, and microplastics like this will never disintegrate.’ 

Caroline recalls that, ‘after swimming in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, when I dried off in the sun, I had tiny pieces of microplastic stuck to me. The size of sand grains, but it was plastic. That’s when I thought this is serious – these fragments were almost part of the water.'

Caroline’s work highlights some concerning studies. 

If livestock or seafood consume food or water contaminated with microplastics, humans will consume the plastics in turn

Equally, through our water sources, we potentially ingest 2000 pieces of microplastic each week. According to a major study by Germany’s environment ministry, microplastics were found in 97% of blood and urine samples taken from almost 3,000 children.

Caroline notes one of the main challenges facing Greenpeace, and all environmental activist groups, is getting on the public, media, and political agenda: ‘The devastating wildfires in Australia and California have an immediacy to them – an imminent threat of death and destruction, which fuels our click-driven 24-hour news cycle.’ 

She says what is missing, though, is recognition that deforestation (which is part of plastic production) is driving climate change, which in turns exacerbates and drives wildfires – ‘it’s all connected.’ 

Individuals and corporations must act, but on their own, ‘they can’t make a big enough dent or commitment.’ The answer is in laws and regulations, according to Caroline. She argues that ‘the sweeping worldwide responses to COVID-19 is evidence governments all over the world can act quickly and enforce us to follow new regulations.’

Caroline has an optimistic outlook, though. ‘Universities should set the example, students should start good habits now to last a lifetime, and degree courses should build in social and environmental responsibility.’ 

She says that the agency is in our hands: ‘We can cause a pandemic. We can cause a climate crisis. And we are the ones who can slow, even reverse it. It’s in our hands and it’s up to us. We can all agree we want blue skies, clear oceans, and clean water.’

Watch: Caroline on the climate crisis