Australia is about to experience one of its hottest, driest summers in recorded history. Rainforests around the world are on fire, from Queensland to Brazil to the Arctic Circle. Sea levels are rising. As rivers swell and oceans rise, our city and our campus, built on swampland, will sink. The effects of climate change will displace millions of people worldwide.
The Government has known about this for decades, and has failed to take action. Scott Morrison sits in parliament fondling coal, and the state Labour Government has lifted the ban on gas fracking and opened the way for massive expansion of the LNG industry in WA. Our university management here at UWA know the science, yet they have links to (and take $$$$ from) some of the biggest polluters on earth: companies like Chevron. We are in the midst of an emergency, and those in power steal our futures by acting as if we have decades left to begin sorting this out. We don’t. Our future depends on a transition to 100% renewable energy, starting today. Right now.
Students have an important role to play in rebelling against climate catastrophe. We only need to look back to 2014 to see how much of an impact students can have on society. When the Abbott Government tried to deregulate university fees and institute 100k degrees, students rallied against it in the streets and forced them to scrap the plan. Even further back, during the time of the Vietnam War, students united in their numbers to oppose it. They played a significant role fighting for gay rights, black rights, women’s rights, and more. Importantly, they did this through their student unions. That’s what the Guild is meant to be- a body that represents students and fights for our interests and for social justice.
The UWA Guild needs to acknowledge the scale of the crisis. Then, it needs to commit its vast resources to organising students in the fight against climate change. Otherwise, the referendum will be purely symbolic. Addressing the carbon footprint of the campus itself is fine, but we need to go far beyond this if we want to challenge the fossil fuel industry that is ravaging our planet. We need to pressure UWA to divest from fossil fuel companies. We need to plaster the campus with news of any upcoming protests and convince them to attend. We need to run an ongoing climate campaign on campus that engages as many students as possible in mass civil disobedience.
Student activists at UWA called this referendum to involve students in the decision to declare a climate crisis, and to demand that the Guild do everything it can to rebel against climate change. This is just the first step- a significant one- in the fight for our earth. So, vote YES in the referendum this Guild election. Get involved in climate activism on campus through Extinction Rebellion UWA. Come to the strike on Sept 20. Act as if the house is on fire- because it is. Students, when they are organised in their numbers ready to rebel, have the power to stop that fire.
Words by Nicole McEwen