Opinion

Students See No Future for Fossil Fuels

Amy Russell, from the Environmental Collective at The University of Sydney, discusses National Divestment Day and students’ passion for divesting from fossil fuels.

‘Students see no future for fossil fuels.’ No statement could ring truer to the universities and youth groups all over Australia who have joined the divestment movement. The myriad of student action displayed on National Divestment Day expressed the discontentment young people feel with the fossil fuel industries. It has become clear that Australian students are frustrated by the attempts of these industries to slow and discredit any process of moving to a renewable-powered future.

For 350.org’s National Divestment Day, fossil-free action groups around Australia held events to show support for divestment. The Australian National University students and staff signed a thirty metre long petition, and at The University of Melbourne students dressed up in their business-best to ‘school’ the Vice-Chancellor.

At The University of Sydney, the Fossil-Free USyd group gave out ‘divestment orange turbine’s along the iconic Eastern Avenue. The idea was to take photos of students showing their support for divestment, to prompt the University to fully clear it’s investment port-folio of fossil fuels as part of Fossil-Free USyd’s ‘Next Step – Full Divestment’ campaign.

This campaign comes on the back of a 20 per cent investment portfolio carbon-footprint reduction success for Sydney University last year. That change only came about after 80 per cent of the student body voted ‘yes to divest’ in a referendum.

Universities are far from the first to tackle the divestment issue. Hundreds of religious organisations, banks and other important institutions (including the World Bank) have already taken the divestment plunge, cutting fossil fuel investments from their stock portfolios.

Young people have overwhelmingly shown their support for divestment campaigns around the world. It has become increasingly clear that to students fossil fuel investments are (rightly) viewed as a threat to their future.

Lucy, a student at Melbourne University said she participated in the divestment campaign because: ‘I believe that the leaders of today have a responsibility to provide for the leaders of tomorrow.’

Nick from Curtin University said, ‘climate change stands to displace an estimated 200 million people by 2050. Our universities cannot, in good conscience, continue to fund an industry that is responsible for the suffering of so many.’

The organisers of Fossil-Free USyd believe that The University of Sydney should remove all fossil fuel investments from their portfolios. Jay, a key coordinator of the campaign said, ‘we know that divestment is about more than an individual institution’s emissions, its real power lies in taking away the social licence of the fossil fuel industry to freely wreck our planet.

‘A decision by the University of Sydney to divest would be a major blow to the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold over our democracy. That’s what we were calling for today, and will continue to call for until Sydney University takes real leadership on divestment.’

The reasons for divesting from fossil fuels are obvious. The message is perhaps best summed up in this statement from the UNFCCC: ‘we support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of “burn what you like, when you like” cannot continue.’

The next generation of leaders in Australia, and around the world, will be required to solve the environmental catastrophe caused by the unfettered burning of fossil fuels. Students are dedicated to making sure that the institutions they are a part of will send a message to the greater society – that is, it’s time to revoke the social license to operate from the coal, oil and gas industries. The first step in this process is divestment.

Amy-Lee Russell is a second year student of a Combined Bachelor of Laws and International and Global Studies majoring in Government & International Relations. Co-convenor 2015 of the Sydney Environmental Collective. Key interest in environmental law & policy, China relations and youth engagement.

Fossil-Free USyd