Blog post by Vatan Hüzeir Fossil Free campaigner at the Erasmus University Rotterdam
May 13th was a great day for the climate movement. In direct response to climate change, the Erasmus
University Rotterdam (EUR) in the Netherlands commissioned EURfossilfree campaigners to:
> Set out guidelines for a critical analysis of the university’s ties to fossil fuel companies;
> Assess how the university can best convince the Dutch pension fund ABP to rethink their investments in fossil fuels worth € 10 billion;
> Advise the Board on how to better integrate sustainability in curricula.
Within just one day up to around 180,000 people learned about this breakthrough. How did this success happen, what was achieved and what lessons can be learned?
In October last year, the EUR and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences asked me to research if and how the latest IPCC climate report was portrayed in popular media. After having read hundreds and hundreds of thoroughly misleading articles on climate change, in February ’14 I started the EURfossilfree campaign.
I was determined to make the Board understand that I didn’t want my university to be complicit in global warming and that they should do everything in their power to counteract it.
I wrote a letter to the Board, which was published in the university magazine (you can read the English version here). By the time the letter was printed, 30 of our professors, lecturers, and PhD candidates with expertise in fields related to climate change supported the initiative.
Although the following public correspondence between the Board and us was quite disheartening, it did help the initiative gain traction and the number of supporters jumped to around 50 staff. Needless to say, we were thrilled when the Board decided to invite us to discuss our proposition with them.
At the meeting they seemed to agree with us on how important it is for a major university like the EUR to give society a very clear signal how we should collectively deal with climate change.
Understanding that its consequences will become increasingly clear this century, it is really only a question whether our universities want to lead now, or follow later in addressing the problem of global warming. As you can see in the meme below my university was wise and chose to take the lead.
In these past few roller-coaster months I have learned a lot. Two things may be of particular interest to those thinking about starting a Fossil Free campaign at their own university.
Firstly, big problems ‘out there’ *can* be dealt with ‘down here’. Those saying otherwise have probably just never tried to change anything themselves. So don’t let them get you down.
Secondly, I learned ‘doing good’ yields a lot of support. Because of this, Fossil Free campaigns – even when started by just one individual – can quickly be adopted by a lot of other do-gooder people. Draw strength from this to carry on with your cause.
To other campaigners I would like to say that what transpired at Stanford University helped us make our point so much stronger at the board meeting.
I am sure our success at the EUR can also be used by other campaigners around the world to generate more leverage in discussions with their universities’ Executive Boards, too. It’s time to get the dominoes falling!
And to university administrators worldwide I say: If you want to make history, any day is a good day to do it!
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