Fossil Free UTas, a student-run volunteer group, are continuing their fight to encourage the university to divest from fossil fuels. A forum will be held on August 22nd at the Sandy Bay campus to examine the issue.
Fossil Free UTas member Jessica Jeyasingham says that the forum will focus on “discussing the feasibility and potential effects that divestment may have on our university, the community and the planet.
“We will hear from a variety of experts, such as Dr John Hewson, the former leader of the Liberal Party [of Australia], as well as Naomi Edwards, of Tasplan Super. There will be a variety of perspectives expressed, drawing from the experiences of other universities and institutions.”
Jessica says the aim of the forum is to “achieve divestment from fossil fuels at UTas. Along the way we hope to engage staff, students and the administration in this discussion and show the administration how much we care about divestment as a student cohort.”
Chester James-Smith, another Fossil Free UTas member, says that the forum aims to showcase the opinion of the “79% of students who…were for divestment from fossil fuels” in the 2018 Sustainability Survey, conducted by the UTas Sustainability Team.
Chester believes students want UTas to divest from fossil fuels because everyone, including universities, should help to prevent and mitigate the dangers and effects of climate change.
“The world is transitioning away from some of its current practises, including the burning of fossil fuels, and sustainability is going to be a huge topic and industry of the future. Universities are about preparing for the future.”
Jessica says that “divestment from fossil fuels is a single action [that] would have a huge effect not only financially on institutions that are contributing to climate change but also in sending a social message that UTas is a forward thinking…environmental leader when it comes to social change.”
Chester says that it is particularly important for UTas to act, given the importance of the natural environment to those studying and researching at UTas.
“Hobart is an amazing place and we have unbelievable connection with nature here.
“[It] has been a hotspot for leadership and activism in the environmental realm in the past. It’s very fitting that Utas embraces that.”
To communicate this message, Jessica, Chester and other Fossil Free members recently met with the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Rufus Black. Jessica says that her initial impressions of the Vice-Chancellor was that he is “sustainability-minded”.
“We look forward to collaborating him and the University Council…together in this space,” Chester said.
Fossil Free UTas has successfully worked with the university administration before. In 2015, they negotiated with the administration to secure an agreement that UTas would become carbon neutral.
Chester says that “Utas going carbon neutral certified” in 2017 was a step forward towards a divestment from fossil fuels and a more sustainable university.
This came after members of Fossil Free UTas staged a 15-day sit-in in the Vice Chancellor’s office. During the sit-in, volunteer Brodie Jeavons dropped a banner reading ‘stop funding coal’ from the Centenary Building. Jeavons was arrested and pictured on national media being led away from the building by police.
Jessica says that the members of Fossil Free UTas who were active during those years “started a lot of what we’re continuing…they got attention to the issue and we’ve been working on their legacy.”
Fossil Free UTas meet every Monday at 6pm at Source Community Wholefoods. They encourage new members to come along to meetings and to follow their Facebook page by searching for ‘Fossil Free UTas’.