Uni Student’s Reject The ‘Sustainability’ Proposal & Demand Immediate Divestment.
Words by Habibah Jaghoori
Last Wednesday Adelaide University students took to the Vice Chancellor’s office to protest the University’s proposed sustainability plan and hand over a petition signed by over 500 students demanding the University to divest its $8 million dollar worth of shares in destructive fossil fuel companies. These companies such as Santos, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest oil and gas distributor have set up their business camp on campus. University students, Uni Students for Climate Justice, Fossil Free UofA and the Greens faction Grassroots have been campaigning long and hard against the University’s ties with gas and oil giant Santos over the past two years and have organised many protests for climate justice.
Students gathered outside Mitchell Building, offices of all the corporate elite that run the University of Adelaide degree factory style. Students chanted, spoke and united in their demands for Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj to divest and oppose the sustainability plan which many students describe as ‘a slap to the face.’
To no student’s surprise, the door was slammed shut in the faces of the protestors when they wanted to physically hand over the petition Peter Hoj had refused to accept or even participate in a consultation meeting prior to the protest. The rude and typical response of Peter Hoj did not deter the students from taking their demands to the University hub and into the ‘stress less’ week event hosted on the Barr Smith Lawns.
Later that night AUU Board President Oscar Ong commented that salts protest caused students to stress at a stress-less event. To this, I’d like to make one thing clear. The only person that gets stressed out by student democracy is Oscar Ong himself.
Profit before education and people decisions such as Uni mergers, course cuts, staff sackings, and investment into weapons companies and fossil fuels are all legacies of bosses that walk the hallways of Mitchell building.
The following article is an adapted version of a speech given by Kalesh Govender, a member of the Uni Students for Climate Justice and Socialist Alternative, at the October 12 protest.
Adelaide University is currently celebrating 148 years of ‘making history. But when it comes to the climate crisis, there’s not much to celebrate.
Our university has just released its draft Sustainability Strategy. Two years in the making, this remarkably unambitious document promises “transformative change” and includes a so-called plan for divestment.
Here’s why this report is just more corporate greenwashing.
The Sustainability Strategy promises to “develop a sustainable investment policy including the development of a transition and divestment plan by mid-2023”. In essence, a vague and unenforceable plan to make another vague and unenforceable plan. In a report meant to address environmental issues, climate change is barely mentioned and reference to fossil fuels is non-existent. Talk of net zero and carbon offsets are the same greenwashing fads used by politicians and businesses alike.
Nowhere in this report are the university’s $3.3 million shares in BHP and Santos. Nowhere in this report are the university’s more than $1 million investments in weapons companies such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the university’s reluctance to acknowledge its own partnerships with climate and war criminals. Nor should we have any illusions about their promise to establish an accountable Sustainability Strategy Committee.
Why should students trust the university to create a committee of representatives when its councils regularly comprise unelected corporate executives (often of fossil fuel companies) and right-wing former politicians like Amanda Vanstone — notorious for increasing fees and attacking student unionism?
The age of neoliberalism has exacerbated climate destruction. We have seen Europe scorched by heat waves and Pakistan devastated by fatal floods. Here in Australia, bushfires and floods have become the norm, with parts of NSW and Victoria currently bracing for extreme weather. These non-natural disasters overwhelmingly affect ordinary, working-class people. They certainly don’t impact people like our Vice-Chancellor who sits on a million-dollar salary.
Management’s PR stunt, Ecoversity, hosted its annual Sustainability Week earlier this year. Its theme was “empowerment as consumers”.
Let’s be clear: no individualised act of ethical consumption or consumerism will be enough to solve the climate crisis. Shifting blame onto individuals, as the Sustainability Strategy does by emphasising the behaviour of staff and students, ignores the reality of the university’s multi-million dollar ties with fossil fuel companies. After all, just 100 of these companies are responsible for more than two-thirds of global emissions.
These are the players we are up against in the fight for climate justice. Polite emailing, token consultations or merely signing petitions is not enough. The only real avenue for students to defend our interests is collective protest.
If we are to avoid the worst aspects of the climate crisis, we must leave all coal, oil and gas in the ground. Demanding our university divest from fossil fuels is a crucial first step. But our fight must extend beyond this immediate demand. The university runs on a model that squarely puts the profit-making interests of management and industry before our education and the planet. It is this profit-seeking model of the university that allows it to maintain deep ties to fossil fuels and militarism. Students must oppose the very model of corporate universities. Institutions of learning should not be for profit.
The draft Sustainability Strategy should be condemned as more ‘blah blah blah’. If university management believes they are making any history, they’re certainly on the wrong side of it. It’s up to us as students to cut through the bullshit, get organised and demand more radical action on climate change.