Fossil Free Monash – you’ve seen the stickers around and wondered ‘what does that even mean?’ Well, it means a Monash that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels. Did you know that Monash has over $400m invested in various shares and companies, of which part is in fossil fuels? Our purpose is to sever the relationship between Monash, a university that prides itself on being ‘green’, and the industry that is most responsible for submerging Pacific islands, destroying glaciers and ruining ecosystems.
Historically it was normal to invest in industries based on profit, but increasingly there is a push towards ethical investment – profit that doesn’t murder the planet. Universities are part of that – but they are also at the forefront of cultural and social advancement. They are a target of the divestment movement because they should be leaders, not followers. The environmental implications of funding coal, oil and gas which warm our planet and damage our water and land are obvious, and the money invested in these industries should be transitioned towards renewable and sustainable alternatives. Students have a rare opportunity to tackle environmental issues at a grassroots level through fossil free campaigns – using people power to pressure universities to take a moral stance and remove their vested interest in the destruction of our climate. Monash is a mostly middle-class university – we benefit from the industrial fossil fuel system in which Australians are some of the largest per-capita emitters of greenhouse gasses, but we are not the ones who will be losing our homes and livelihoods because of it. The developed world has reaped most of the benefits of industrial western capitalism, but most of the damage will be dealt to the developing world. This makes it a moral responsibility for us to work towards a more equitable world.
Monash is currently creating an environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy that will influence its investments into the future. We met with them and they proposed to us that they feel they can create better environmental outcomes through engaging with fossil fuel companies rather than divesting from them. Divestment is symbolic; it’s about delegitimising the fossil fuel industry and removing their social license to pollute. Monash cannot continue to invest in fossil fuels when they are creating a systematic risk to our future – we cannot change the system by individually recycling or saving water, we need respected institutions to be the change that we want so we can get the change we need. We need leadership and brilliance – so far we’ve gotten ‘take the bus’.
Divestment has been deployed before, and to great effect. In the 80’s there was a push led by students to divest from South Africa to protest against apartheid. Over 10 years $350m of investment was withdrawn from the country with major institutions like Barclays Bank citing the campaign as the reason they divested. The campaign even reached the U.S. Government, which enacted the Comprehensive Anti Apartheid Act in 1986. That is what divestment is about – it isn’t about the money, it’s about the power. The power to say ‘we won’t be part of this system, we won’t add legitimacy to it by participating in it, and we won’t be quiet about the destruction it wreaks.’ Our campaign at Monash is similar – their share of money in fossil fuels globally is a drop in the ocean, but imagine the pressure, the attention and the power that can be harnessed if a prestigious university like Monash washed its hands of fossil fuels?
We’ve built our campaign from the ground up – it’s a grassroots movement based here, ran by students and for students. We have support from 350.org, a global climate organisation, but everything we do is decided by us. We own our campaign and we invite you to become part of that ownership. We work with 4 other universities in Victoria, sharing skills, networks and capacity. Universities all over the world have divested, including Stanford, Syracuse, Glasgow and Warwick University, Monash’s ‘strategic partner’. In Australia, both the ANU and The University of Sydney have made moves towards divestment, however neither has fully divested. 3 weeks ago we launched Flood the Campus, a national campaign of 6 universities aimed at escalating the fossil free movement in Australia. We’re partnering with our friends at Fossil Free Melbourne University (FFMU) and while we can’t give much away, we can guarantee it’s going to be big, and you’re invited!