Written by Ellie Jones for People and Planet.
The university is in the final stages of its decision whether or not to cut their investment in fossil fuels. The 2 April marks the final meeting of the Edinburgh University working group for fossil fuel divestment, whose recommendation will be carried forward to the University Court.
Edinburgh’s decision is not an isolated case. The Fossil Free movement is constantly growing in momentum and across a vast range of institutions, from Glasgow University to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The institutions already committed to divestment do not even begin to reflect the noise being made around the world, with almost 50 different Fossil Free student groups in the UK alone. And the fact is, these campaigns work. In the mid 1980s, the students of 155 US universities put pressure on their institutions to divest from companies which traded with, or had operations in, South Africa, to protest against the Apartheid government. This student-led movement resulted in the banning of all new US Trade with South Africa. Desmond Tutu identifies the need for “an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet”; Fossil Free is growing into just such a movement.
However it is at this time of success for the Fossil Free campaign that we must be most guarded against our own complacency. The Fossil Free movement has only gained such force because of the number of people who have spoken out and refused to stand down. Part of Edinburgh’s mission statement is to, “make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing”. Yet the university’s investments in fossil fuel and arms companies are in conflict with every one of these goals. It is the university’s moral obligation to take its money out of these destructive industries and to redirect its considerable resources toward renewable energy and socially beneficial projects.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben breaks climate change down into three figures. 2°C is the temperature rise agreed on in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord which would mark our entry into what has been identified as catastrophic climate change. We currently have 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon contained in our coal and oil reserves.
This means that, of all our current fossil fuel reserves, we can only burn around a fifth. It is undeniable that the future is one in which we cannot rely on these resources, and the stigmatisation of fossil fuel companies which divestment creates is our best tool. We must stop engaging with fossil fuel companies, as if they will eventually agree to a process which will inevitably put them out of business, and withdraw their social licence to use public resources for private gain.
We must stop permitting our public institutions to green-wash their images using buzzwords like ‘sustainable’ and ‘socially responsible’, while simultaneously trying to profit from companies driving environmental and social injustice.
Image: Ray Bodden