The newly formed Monash division of the international Go Fossil Free campaign is advocating for Monash University to sell its fossil fuel investments – a process known as divestment. Whether you identify as left or right of the political spectrum, divestment is an approach to environmental sustainability that has the potential to be palatable.
Some people are commonly misrepresented as being ‘climate sceptics’, as a result of hesitation to support action on climate change, due to a belief in the creative capacity of humans at the eleventh hour. They hold the view that once it is really in our interests to put a value on nature, the market will spawn all kinds of eco-centric innovations. Divestment works within this market framework, encouraging individuals and institutions to take ownership of their investments and allocate them to valued causes.
The greatest obstacle to the expansion of renewable energy is the unfair advantage enjoyed by dirty energy companies in both investments and public subsidies. The divestment campaign targets investments, in a manner that echoes Lord Stern’s advocacy for harnessing markets now, in order to mitigate the long-running, amplified impacts of climate change. By selling investments that prop up gluttonous, unsustainable and dirty technologies, emerging, renewable technologies will be given a level playing field. Once the playing field is leveled, there should be nothing preventing the clean energy technologies from enjoying a similar advantage at the expense of the old technologies. The tipping point for this to occur is estimated at around 5% of the $70 trillion in superannuation, insurance and sovereign wealth funds.
The Go Fossil Free campaign identifies three key organisational categories that have significant assets. Universities/colleges is one of these, along with cities/states and religious institutions, and a category for ‘other’ groups. The assets held by such institutions have significant social visibility, which means they will be influential in establishing a norm in asset accountability. Although the investments of an institution such as Monash are incomparable in scale to the $70 trillion tied up in various funds, they will be a key launch-pad for a movement which seeks to shine the spotlight on finances that have hitherto been written off as someone else’s responsibility.
The Fossil Free Monash campaign has just begun to take form, from the same grassroots global institution that spawned the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s Power Shift 2013 Conference. Unlike campaigns of the same origin in the United States of America, the Fossil Free Monash branch does not stop at divestment. It asks Monash to re-invest in renewable industries, such that they represent 5% of the university’s share portfolio, in line with the proportion of global assets that is required to bolster the renewable energy industry. Fossil Free Monash also has a view to introduce the Monash community to resources to help them take charge of personal finances, such as superannuation and savings.
Globally, 300 educational institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, RMIT and the University of Melbourne have taken the divestment campaign to their administrators. Over 100 cities have committed to the campaign, and the recent pledge to push for state-wide action by Northampton City council, Massachusetts, is just one testament to the growth and feasibility of the movement.
Individually, we do not have the power to prevent the obscene and insidious overconsumption of environmental resources, the effects of which are unforeseeable and imprecise. In tune with the grassroots nature of the 350.org program, divestment is an aspect of transitioning to a more sustainable future that the layperson can not only get their head around, but also realistically contribute to simply by speaking with their networks and investigating their finances.
Head to www.facebook.com/ FossilFreeMonashUniversity to keep up to date, and contact Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved.