The Australian National University (ANU) created a bit of media storm in Australia in the last week when it declared it would divest itself of “socially irresponsible investments“, with a focus on fossil fuel use. ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young was emphatic:
“I have repeatedly said climate change is the most serious issue ever to have faced humanity.”
And later, “fossil fuel-reliant companies will not survive the next 20 to 30 years unless they diversify into new energies.”
Applause and recriminations followed.
Sinclair Davidson rather callously suggested this was just a token gesture of pointless political symbolism. (Golly. You are such a cynic Sinclair.) Obviously, if climate change is THE most serious issue, the next step for ANU is to light the way, and stop using the products of fossil fuel companies too. It is surely time for a Fossil Fuel Free Zone (FFFZ) on campus. Like a Nuclear Free Zone, all forms of Fossil Fuels and Fossil Fuel Bombs will have to keep away.
All petrol and diesel powered machines would be barred at the gates. Truck deliveries will have to be by electric and solar powered trucks. Hey, other trucks can drop the goods at the gates. I’m sure students won’t mind carrying the boxes as they arrive, or perhaps Delivery-Rickshaws are the answer? General fitness and health on campus would improve. What’s not to like?
Heating on campus during the long cold Canberra winter could be solar powered, or fired by waste paper (like recycled peer reviewed papers?). Buildings could be made from wood collected from sustainable plantations (like the Chemistry lab in Nottingham — but without the part where it burns down).
I expect henceforth that campus staff will be happy to travel to conferences by foot, bike, yacht and/or nuclear sub. Or they could just Skype international colleagues from their windmill powered computer (the “Skype and skip” conference initiative). Nothing is more important than the climate.
Australia should not just be an adopter of alternative energy, we should be a producer,” he wrote. “I have often said the real debate in climate should be about producing cost-effective alternative energy. Sticking our collective heads in the sand and ignoring a changing world will ensure we do destroy jobs. “Universities like ANU should be the powerhouses to produce the new technologies for such a world.
And it’s not like Prof Young’s job, status or grants are affected in any way by climate PR and the level of political conviction and public pressure about CO2.
“As well as being Vice-Chancellor of ANU, I am also an active researcher. Climate and changes to climate figure heavily in my research into physical oceanography, global ocean climate and extreme meteorological events.” – Prof Young, ANU
As far as the FFFZ goes — there is already a group called Fossil Free ANU:
But Louis Klee from the group ANU Fossil Free said while it [divestment] was a big achievement for the university, the decision did not go far enough.
He said the ANU still had major holdings in BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Woodside Petroleum.
Curious that FossilFreeANU don’t seem to want ANU to produce less CO2 just to give up on the profits associated with its production. (What’s more important — changing the weather, or hobbling independent corporations in favor of big-government dependent groups? Vale renewables?)
“It is wrong for ANU to continue to profit from these industries that are responsible for the wreckage of the planet,” he said.
I guess other people can make those profits instead then.
Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at Australian National University (who could not possibly have a vested interest in this argument, right?), assures us on The Conversation that the ANU’s decision is not merely tokenistic. He was astonished by what he calls the “intense” response.
The outrage from the affected companies shows how much influence universities can wield when they put their money where their mouth is.
But climate economics seems to be so different from normal economics:
The Australian government seems to believe that national prosperity is tied to fossil fuels, and that “Team Australia” ought to be backing the sector and its individual companies, no matter their environmental performance.
Nevermind that Australia’s largest export industry is coal.
Nonetheless, we are sure Frank Jotzo’s productivity and prosperity is not tied to fossil fuels, and he’ll be the first on campus to start the campaign to make ANU a fossil free zone, right? Turn off the computer, the lights, and get on your bike.
Yes, the ANU is the other one of my alma maters, that and UWA. Sigh.