University Council candidates’ views of the climate emergency

Words by the Environment Collective of Students

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(Left to right) — Leah Schamschurin, Blake Lawrenson, Lachlan Agius

Our climate emergency is one of the biggest threats that is facing us now and into the perceivable future. Acting to rapidly curb fossil fuel emissions and to support a just transition away from polluting industries like coal, oil and gas is of critical importance for both governments and institutions alike.

Universities have an ethical responsibility to make investment decisions that are consistent with their values of academic rigour and scientific integrity. Educational institutions, including eight universities across Australia and many overseas, are divesting from fossil fuel assets in recognition of the severity of the climate emergency we are facing and the need to act with appropriate urgency in accordance with the best scientific evidence available.

Due to the above, our university’s Environment Collective of Students has reached out to the candidates running for the position of Undergraduate Student Representative of The University of Adelaide Council. This election is important because the Council is the governing body of the University and approves significant commercial activities of the University as per the University of Adelaide Act 1971 (SA).

The following questions were asked to all five candidates with a four-day turnaround during the voting period. Responses were received from Leah Schamschurin, Blake Lawrenson, and Lachlan Agius and will appear in the order they were received. Please keep in mind that the voting period of this election closes on the 18th of this month. We urge you to keep these responses in mind as you vote.

1. If elected, how will the climate emergency inform your role in the University Council?

2. Where do you stand on the university undertaking an 100% divestment from fossil fuel assets?

3. Do you plan to pursue the university’s divestment from fossil fuels in the University Council?

4. Does the university’s relationships with corporations jeopardise action on the climate emergency? Should the university drive environmental interests in Australia and beyond?

Leah Schamschurin

1. If elected onto the University Council, I will work with other student representatives, clubs, and the broader student community in order to identify how our university should pursue climate action. I believe that there is power in numbers, and that diversity in experience, knowledge, and skill is crucial when working towards something as important as climate action. The current climate emergency is something so many students are passionate about, and I will make sure this passion is communicated to the Council when making decisions that directly and indirectly impact our environment. For example, if the Council is proposing to establish a new corporate partnership or renew an existing one, I will consult with students in order to identify if this is a wise move, and if not, what alternative I can advocate for.

2. I believe that our university needs to commit to divestment from fossil fuel industries. It is a powerful way of pursuing ethical sustainability, and sends a clear message to the rest of the world about how serious we are in tackling climate change. In Australia, a number of universities have already committed to some level of divestment, however our university has not indicated any intention to follow this trend. I acknowledge that 100% divestment may not be viable in the immediate future, however believe that we should be establishing a plan now in order to work towards this goal. It is not an impossible task, and therefore should not be treated like one.

3. I absolutely want to pursue fossil fuel divestment. Students are powerful when united, and can be the agents of meaningful change. I intend to be a voice for the student community, and to therefore advocate for their interests. I will not support decisions that aim to establish new partnerships with corporations if they are linked to fossil fuel industries. I will advocate for the establishment of a divestment plan and encourage student participation during this process. I will use my position as a mechanism for change, not submission, and will always make sure I remain accountable to the students I represent.

4. I believe that there is a potential for corporate relationships to inhibit the university’s pursuit of climate action. When we accept funding from businesses that destroy the environment, such as those linked to fossil fuel mining, we are contributing to the climate emergency. Universities are supposed to facilitate knowledge, innovation and opportunities to shape the world we live in, not commodify education at the expense of student and environmental welfare. The climate emergency is one of the most significant threats to the human race, meaning now is the time to use this knowledge, innovation, and passion in order to make an impact. We should absolutely be leading environmental action.

Blake Lawrenson

1. To me, climate change is an issue that requires fully formed thinking and ideas to tackle its causes and effects. Just at the time of writing, I saw an article about an iceberg (150km long, 48km wide, and a 200m draught, originating from an area of Antarctica that has been warming) that is on a direct collision course with South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. This iceberg will destroy marine biodiversity in the area due to the large amount of fresh water that will be released into the sea and create pollution by digging up and dispersing the seabed into the surrounds. I intend to fully scrutinise and analyse every proposal put before me on the Council for impacts in all areas, with climate change as no exception. Universities are the bastion of innovation and research, so whatever decisions that can be made which will lead to the development of new sustainable technologies, while increasing the efficiency of existing ones, you can be sure they will have my support. There is no planet B, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t intend on moving.

2. Fossil fuels are not a sustainable energy source. Their negative impacts are indisputable and where possible, we should be changing to sustainable forms of energy, while the University should be encouraging research into technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, fusion reactors, and higher efficiency solar to reduce our emissions. That said, many areas of the world still rely on the use of fossil fuels as the cheapest available form of energy. It is easy for us here, in a country with wealth far exceeding that of most countries, to simply say that we must drop fossil fuels as an energy source yesterday, but that ignores the harsh reality of the developing world. A farmer in a developing region, using an old, beaten up tractor to increase crop yield to feed their family can’t afford to go back to using the ox and cart, or hand, nor afford the latest and greatest electric tractor. Electric vehicles would be impractical in such an environment, as with unstable or no electricity, how will it be charged? As such, I would not support an undertaking of 100% divestment, but I would support increases in investment by the University into research of sustainable technologies and the progressive reduction of funding put into fossil fuels. Fossil fuel research is still necessary while they are still in use, as it can uncover ways to produce and use those fuels in a way which, while not renewable, has less emissions, supporting humanity’s transition across all nations to sustainable sources of energy. As a species, we are addicted to fossil fuels, but this is an addiction that cannot be resolved by going cold turkey.

3. I am someone who, when they are given a task, will continue to work until it is complete. If elected, the promises I have made in this campaign shall be my mandate and I will work tirelessly to see the University adopt those positions. The views I have set forth in the preceding question, I feel, answer this question too. I can assure the students of our University that I will pursue the realisation of those views, will not sit idly by on the Council and I will make sure that we are heard.

4. Corporations have a significant role in our University. Their funding provides the equipment and infrastructure that we need to complete our studies and to conduct research. Without it we likely would not have half the facilities that we are fortunate to have now. I am not personally familiar with the relationships with the University that any corporations do possess, or any influence that they may hold, so I would prefer not to speculate as to their resulting influence. The most significant relationship that I know of is that with SANTOS, as there is a building and lecture theatre named for them. In this instance though, that corporate funding does not seem to be preventing research and action on climate change as there are various studies that the University is taking into climate change and with the Centre for Energy Technology at the University developing several low carbon technologies. On the Council, I would not be beholden to the wishes of corporate donors as I would not be there to represent them. I would be there to represent you, the students of the University of Adelaide.

I don’t think that the best bodies to drive environmental interests are universities, nor is it their role to drive environmental interests. Environmental interests should be driven by everyone. It is simply not enough for the University of Adelaide, or even all Australian universities to drive environmental interests. Our global society must be the one to drive interests. We are the ones with the power to vote and have a real voice. We are the ones with the ability to make free decisions to support sustainable living. Yes, universities have a role, but they are not suited to be the driver, they are the fuel.

Lachlan Agius

1. The climate emergency would be a major factor when considering my position on environmental issues affecting the University. I would not support any initiatives that would increase the University’s carbon footprint.

2. I believe as a society we should undertake an orderly transition to a carbon neutral or carbon free society. The same should also apply to the University’s fossil fuels assets. However I acknowledge that this process of fossil fuel divestment is unlikely to happen overnight to prevent financial losses.

3. If elected I hope to gain a greater understanding of the size and financial complexity of the University’s fossil fuel assets and developed a plan for disinvestment, while minimising financial losses.

4. It would depend on the nature of relationship and who the relationship is with. For example a relationship with a local company to provide access to internship programs is unlikely to jeopardise the University’s climate actions. Given the University’s research expertise in environmental and earth sciences it should definitely look to take a lead to drive environmental interests.

Written by

Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Nicholas Birchall, Felix Eldridge, Taylor Fernandez and Larisa Forgac. Email us at onditmag@gmail.com

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