Speech at the Global Climate Strike, Stellenbosch Town Hall

25 March 2022

Hi there. I’m Damien du Preez, a final year student at Stellenbosch and an executive for the United Nations society on campus.

I want to talk about Stellenbosch University’s responsibilities in the face of the climate and ecological crisis.

But first, let’s talk about those twin crises. The latest IPCC report on climate change - a gigantic scientific document compiled by thousands of the world’s best scientists and endorsed by almost every nation on earth - is the most catastrophic yet.

The world is on the precipice of plunging into an abyss of climate horrors. We have less than 10 years left to hold warming below 1.5 degrees celsius.

After that, there is a significant risk that temperatures won’t stop increasing - that we can’t hold them stable.

Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, tipping points, feedback loop, and cascade effects could see temperatures spiral out of our control.

Now when you come to universities like Stellenbosch, they tell you that you can change the world. That you can contribute. That you can make it better.

Professor Wim de Villiers himself, the Rector of Stellenbosch, has just claimed that to “build back better” is at the core of Stellenbosch’s mission.

Standing here today, armed with the evidence of the IPCC report, it seems obvious to me that the best way to build a better world is to stop destroying the one we already have.

But we aren’t the ones in positions of power. We can’t pull back on the “fuck the planet” lever.

We’re students - young people.

But what we can do - what we’ve been very good at for a very long time - is holding those in positions of power to account.

To demand powerful institutions like Stellenbosch University lead by example. To demand that they face up to their public responsibilities as one of Africa’s top public universities.

Stellenbosch University, which has the foresight to launch a School for Climate Studies, but not the courage to divest from the fossil fuels causing the climate crisis.

Stellenbosch University, which took five years to develop their Environmental Sustainability plan, but yet seems incapable of taking the time to recognise the climate crisis.

For Stellenbosch University to not declare a climate emergency - to not divest from fossil fuels - is nothing less than a denial of the scientific evidence of the IPCC. To deny the work of the world’s best scientists - to deny the endorsements of nearly every scientific body on the planet.

To do such a thing - for a leading academic institution to reject the IPCC report’s urgent call for action - is catastrophic. It is science denialism. It is academic dishonesty. It is cowardice.

It is a rejection of your responsibilities.

And so today we call on Stellenbosch University - and all those in positions of power - to face up to their responsibilities. To have courage.

Accept the science, as any legitimate academic institution would. Declare a crisis. Divest from fossil fuels. Help us lobby for action.

The young are watching, and we will hold you to account.

Thank you.