Mingling with VCs
We wait nervously as the sun sets and the string quartet inside Wilson Hall start playing. As the delegates start to trickle past, we approach with smiles, flyers, cupcakes and a strong message – it’s time for universities to divest from fossil fuels.
Those in our group are impassioned to see strong action on climate change. As young people. we recognise the serious challenges that global warming will present for us and many generations to come. Many of us thought that universities – bastions of forward-thinking, innovation, science, reason and education - would keenly embrace our calls to divest their moderate endowments from an industry that destroys our climate and funds climate denial. Yet every university in Australia has been reluctant to take this bold step to completion. This is how we came to find ourselves standing outside the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, talking directly to university decision-makers and journalists from all over the world, and handing them cupcakes.
“Is this a protest?” one delegate asks me. “It’s more of a friendly campaign to pressure our universities to divest,” I respond. Some are receptive, others annoyed. We ask them if they have heard of fossil fuel divestment and explain how universities have a key role to play in addressing climate change. The summit organisers from the University of Melbourne are thoroughly pissed off. “Just keep walking!” an organiser cries to the delegates. We talk to leaders from the University of California, Glasgow University, and others who have divested, giving us a glimmer of hope for what our universities can achieve.
We gather after and discuss why divestment is important and why universities should lead the way on this critical issue. We reaffirm our commitment to the cause and try to understand why our own universities, like our government, continue to lag behind the rest of the world on climate change action. As the summit delegates enjoy their champagne and hors d’oeuvres, we drink pints at the pub. We will win this campaign; it is only a matter of time. University leaders can walk right past us if they like, but we will be next to them, every step of the way, reminding them that until they divest, they will be profiteers of climate change.