Fossil Free UC was a single-campaign club calling on the University of Canterbury to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
We were part of a global ‘Fossil Free’ movement of university students, faith groups, and businesses with a simple premise: since it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is also wrong to profit from that wreckage. Fossil fuel companies’ ties with respected institutions like universities are what give them the social licence to continue business as usual – a business that is destroying the planet, and the futures of the very students UC seeks to educate!
By divesting from fossil fuels, UC could help revoke that social licence, no longer legitimising the destructive business of the fossil fuel industry, and instead prioritise the interests and wellbeing of its students, its staff, and the wider society it serves.
We started a petition urging UC to divest in 2015. Through posters, movie nights, campus stunts, and other events, we raised awareness on campus about the harmful effects of fossil fuels. We found that many students were concerned about climate change, but didn’t necessarily know how they could engage with the issues. Our grassroots action gave students a way to make a difference on campus and beyond.
We delivered our petition to the Chancellor in September 2016, by which time it had gathered nearly 2,000 signatures from students, staff, alumni, and concerned community members.
However, it took another six months of campaigning and raising awareness before we could declare victory. On 29 March 2017, the University Council resolved to have no direct investments in fossil fuels and to reduce indirect investment in fossil fuels to less than 1%.
Our campaign took two years, the dedication of a handful of core members, and the support of thousands of students, staff, alumni, and community members who signed the petition, came to events, and spoke up on behalf of our collective future. Together, we sent a powerful message to the fossil fuel industry: their destruction of our future will not be tolerated at UC. Sadly, the university demonstrated little interest in championing its students prepared to make a difference, or its decisive action in response to their efforts, barely communicating this success to staff, students, and civil society.
Mah Mah (Tohoa) Tetini, UC Fossil Free, PhD student in Anthropology