Two major political events occurred this December: COP21 and the vote on Syrian airstrikes. After both the failure of COP and the controversy surrounding the airstrikes, Edinburgh University needs to seriously consider its investment policy and fully divest from both fossil fuel and arms companies.
In 2015, the university agreed to divest from coal and tar sands as well as three major fossil fuel companies. This gained a mixed reaction; whilst a step in the right direction, in order to be truly ethical, the university must stop investing in any fossil fuel companies.
This much-needed policy change is only exacerbated by the inadequacies of the COP agreement. There is little of substance that is legally binding; that countries have to submit targets means little when you consider that previous voluntary agreements haven’t been upheld. Add this to the lack of fossil fuel regulation in the policies and keeping global warming below the required 2 degrees – let alone the recommended 1.5 degrees – seems almost as distant a goal as it was before the conference.
It is now more than ever that everyone has to step up and help in the environmental struggle. When attempts at progress fail on an international level it is surely down to the rest of us – individuals, institutions and organisations – to step up and do what our politicians could not. As an influential and supposedly progressive institution, it is Edinburgh University’s duty to vote with its money and make a stand against corporations that are damaging our planet and displacing thousands of people.
It’s the same with arms companies. The university has made clear that it will not invest in “controversial” arms, a decision once again insufficient. Whether the arms are “controversial” or not, is it really right that an institution committed to educating and benefitting the lives of its members should aid the destruction of parallel lives – whether of soldiers or civilians –in faraway places? By investing in the UK’s wars, the university forgoes its neutrality and takes a political stance in support of them.
As with COP, the decision to bomb Syria shows this even more clearly. Rolls Royce, a large manufacturer of armed aircraft, saw a massive boost in profits following the vote. Whether you believe the decision to bomb was right or not, surely few would find the thought of profiting from death anything less than discomforting, yet that is what our university is contributing towards. As Youssef El-Gingihy said in The Independent: “war is good for business.”
The question of controversy fails to excuse the current policy of investment. “Controversial” arms are termed as those which do not discriminate between civilians and soldiers, however it is widely accepted that a large number of deaths resulting from the airstrikes (which will use so-called “uncontroversial” arms such as armed aircraft) will be civilian. Thus, by continuing to invest in any company that manufactures arms of any kind, Edinburgh continues to fund the deaths of soldiers and civilians alike.
Therefore, both COP21 and the airstrikes vote expose an ethical requirement the university has had for a long time. The failure of the Paris talks lead to an ever-increasing need to act fast, whilst the decision to bomb Syria highlights the hypocrisy of an institution whose basic function is to benefit our society, yet, simultaneously funds the extreme destruction of other societies.
Image credit: Kamyar Adl