I write these words from the administration building of Queen's University Belfast on day two of student activist group Fossil Free QUB's occupation of the building. We are occupying this building as an action of last resort: senior management at Queen's have settled for forestalling, patronising and ignoring instead of engaging with students that care passionately about their university and their climate.
We are demanding that Queen's freeze all new investments in fossil fuels and publicly commit to divesting from the fossil fuel companies they are already invested in by 2020. This is a campaign supported by the Student Council here, as well as a student-wide referendum, cross party-political support and leading academics, including Noam Chomsky.
The official response from the university has been, to put it politely, sluggish. They have promised to 'run a workshop' in January (this was brought to them in October) and to conduct a 'comprehensive review of their investment policy' that they estimate will take them 9 months. The policy is just 6 lines long.
We cannot afford to wait and stall when it comes to fossil fuel divestment: the fate of our species and countless others hangs in the balance of a rapidly diminishing time-frame. The much touted 2 degrees of warming mark is quickly becoming a best-case scenario, as we look set to heat the earth far beyond this with our insatiable addiction to fossil fuels, and the consequences are dire.
One impact we are already experiencing is the increase of freak weather events. A study published in Nature has suggested that after the 0.85 degrees of warming we are experiencing 4-5 times more freak weather events than before the warming period started- if we exceed 2 degrees we'll be experiencing roughly 27 times the number of floods, hurricanes and droughts. The IPCC has also warned of severe consequences for food and water security, energy infrastructure and individual health. Wide-spread displacement will occur due to more conflict and flooding of coastal regions. As a species we are at risk of fundamentally altering the face of the planet and endangering ourselves and countless others in the process.
And yet Queen's University still have at least £5.5 million invested in the fossil fuel industry, not to mention millions more in weapons, tobacco and gambling. As a place that is supposed to be about learning and liberation it is deeply disturbing that it is attempting to make personal gain whilst ignoring scientific consensus and dooming us all to a future of climate chaos. As students, scholars and citizens we've had enough- the time for action is now.
A whole host of research emerging from psychology, sociology and political science is showing that it is not out of apathy that young people aren't engaging with the formal political process: it's because they've lost hope in it as a viable means of achieving positive progress. This clearly hasn't stopped them from taking matters into their own hands, as we in Fossil Free QUB are doing right now. Instead of waiting around for leaders and decision makers to give us something to hope for we're doing it ourselves, reclaiming politics and shaping it into something fit for the 21st century and a progressive agenda.
I have had the pleasure of sharing my weekend with a group of highly motivated, passionate and capable individuals who will not rest until our university submits to the overwhelming call for morality and sense coming from its stakeholders. We have had political debates, film screenings, musical sessions and a culture of sharing amongst ourselves what little we have. Not only has this group taught me much about activism, but a considerable amount about what I'd like our wider society to look like.
For so long student politics has been branded as naïve and irrelevant, and student activism as non-existent: a wave of new movements in which Queen's Fossil Free is but one of many is smashing this flawed perception apart. We are surrounded by a culture that tells us our unquestionable consumption-related demands are the bedrock of society but our political aspirations are untenable so we are saying enough: a different way of doing things is possible. The planet cannot afford to wait, so why should we? A safer, fairer, more sustainable and vibrant world is within our grasp- we just have to reach out.