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Kristiana Nikolova campaigned against plastic cups at the health faculty's coffee shop

Rebellion — »We should not be pointing to each other, saying that what they do is all wrong and calling out people as polluters. It is better to show that we can do these things and still have an easy life.«

Kristiana Nikolova is a 30-year-old student studying medicine at the University of Copenhagen. She helped to start the green student association IMCC Earth. Here she talks about her own climate struggle.

I got a feeling that I should do something.

I had been in to see the Leonardo DiCaprio film ‘Before the Flood’ with a friend. After the film, I was shocked. It wasn’t really because any of it was completely new to me, but this sentiment had arisen in me. I was frightened.

The problem is, the feeling is often followed by a sense of but-what-do-I know? I am just a small citizen in a small society. But this time I felt that we all say this, and we cannot keep saying something has to change. Something has to change, and we have to get politicians to change. This was three years ago now.

Read also: And they didn’t think the students could start a rebellion

In the film, they refer to the fact that Barack Obama said he was opposed to gay marriage when he wanted to be elected as president because his advisers said he should. Later, in 2012, he found out that there was now support for gay marriage among his voters, and he changed his position.

This is precisely what politicians do.

I kept on talking nonstop about the film, and when I got back to my shared flat, I was really scared. I felt like I had exam anxiety, palpitations, and I could hardly sleep or eat. I was studying for my exams at the time, and the day after, in the reading room, I couldn’t concentrate, so I did a Google search to find out what I could do.

I had to start with myself, I thought, eat less meat. I googled all sorts of sustainable Christmas presents, as Christmas was just around the corner.

I always teased my mum with the fact that she collected and saved the wrapping paper Christmas evening, and I thought it was so embarrassing.

Now I am that person.

I thought: Where is the location that I am the most in my daily life? At the health and medicine building Panum:

At Panum we have Klubben, where you can get free coffee and water, and it is there we hold our parties. I thought there were a lot of plastic cups being used there. Every time you get a cup of coffee, you get a plastic cup, and you may do this three times a day. I would like to do something about this, so I set up a meeting with the Klubben organisers.

I found out that approximately 350 plastic cups were used every day.

Doctors have a strong voice in public, both directly with patients and in the media. We need to exploit that we have this platform and status in society.
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I talked to a couple of friends on my study programme about my new sense of fear, and one of them wondered why we did not talk more about climate on the medicine programme. At the time, there was not the same awareness about the issue. The Green Student Movement did not exist, and there were none of the initiatives that we see today. It ended with us deciding to start a task group. We have so many associations on the medicine programme about all sorts of things, but there was none about climate.

I contacted the organisation IMCC, the International Medical Cooperation Committee, and asked for advice. They wrote that they were pleased with my request, as they would like to have a group like this. It was a requirement that it should be about climate AND health to be part of IMCC, and my friend and I did not know much about it, but they sent a lot of articles that we should read.

This was another revelation: Climate change is associated closely with the health field. It is not just about cows that pollute, or polar bears that don’t have enough ice. It is also about us, and our health. And we can all relate to this. This was how IMCC Earth came about.

We hold approximately two events each semester. Last semester we held a clothes exchange, where someone also sold notebooks made of discarded books. Afterwards, we had a screening of a film about the clothing industry and its impact on climate and health.

We also took over the coffee at the Klubben for one day and sold recyclable cups that are easy to take in your bag or in the pocket of a lab coat. We showed some films about plastic in the sea, and how plastic affects health, and at the same time we collected signatures to see how many other people also thought it was a bad idea to use 350 cups a day.

This December, we have organised a major lecture event, where a climate expert is to talk about climate change in Denmark, an infectious medicine expert is to talk about diseases such as malaria coming to Denmark, and then someone from Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders will come in to talk about what happens when the climate catastrophe hits us.

I really hope that many medical students and doctors attend. Doctors have a strong voice in public, both directly with patients and in the media.

We need to exploit that we have this platform and status in society. We can say to people: Hey, as doctors we are also concerned with climate change.

In the beginning, I had to start with myself. If we were enough of us that changed our behaviour, we could influence some things. I have moved away from this a bit. I feel that even though I believe you can move things by yourself, the changes need to be made from above. It is easier to avoid using plastic cups if they are not there.

We should not be pointing to each other and saying that what they do is all wrong and calling out people as polluters. It is better to show that we can do these things and still have an easy life. I can still have nice clothes, even if I buy them second-hand. A weekend trip does not have to be to Paris, it can also be to Malmö in Sweden. I recently did this with a friend and we had a great weekend.

It took three years, but since 1 November there have been no plastic cups for coffee in the Klubben.

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