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Don’t dither, divest – it’s time to get active

Tuesday 17-02-2015 - 14:09

This is a guest blog from Kirsty Haigh, NUS Scotland’s vice president communities 

 

Last Friday, people around the world took part in the Global Divestment Day (GDD). This is a coordinated day of action, campaigning for investors to take their money out of fossil fuel companies; companies whose operations are destroying our planet and putting the welfare and livelihoods of people in danger.

The campaign for divestment from fossil fuels and arms companies is exciting, the message is clear: our colleges, universities and public bodies are meant to be ones of principles, morals and standards, and it is important that this is reflected through their investments. Our institutions should not be footing the bill for climate change and war. 

We’ve already seen many students’ associations pass policy on campaigning for divestment. Students at Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Birmingham, University of East Anglia, Glasgow, Edinburgh, SOAS, Anglia Ruskin, Hull, Warwick, King’s College London and, of course, NUS Scotland, have decided to join the growing divestment movement. 

The campaign to get institutions to move their money from harmful industries to ethical ones is escalating fast, with people and companies all over the world finally paying attention to its demands. Just take a look at the list of institutions who are already committed to divesting here.  

For our universities and colleges, the moral argument for divestment are obvious. They are publicly funded institutions, and should be working to benefit the wider world around them. This means that their investments ought to go towards industries that enhance and contribute to social wellbeing, not ones whose operations are destroying the planet and contributing to war and conflict.

The moral argument should be enough for our institutions to realise that they can no longer fund the fossil fuel industry or arms companies. But for fossil fuel divestment there is also a strong business case for divesting from fossil fuel companies too.  There will come a time when fossil fuels will run out, and investing in them isn’t actually a secure long-term option. It's better for our universities to put their money, for example, into the development of renewables. On the People’s Climate March I saw someone with a placard which read “Only fools invest in finite resources” and it made it smile. 

We need to demand that our institutions move the money they are investing in dirty industries into clean ones. Despite the growing recognition for divestment, this won’t be an easy argument to make. Especially here in Scotland, universities and colleges have close ties with the fossil fuel industry, and arms manufacturers are just as good as big oil companies in creating links with our decision-makers and institutions.

But, here’s the thing. As well as being about arguing for what’s morally right, and financially sensible, this campaign is about taking democratic control over the decision made at your institution.

You, as student at your institution, should have a say in how your university or college is run. That means that you should also have a say in how your institution invests its’ money, particularly when such a significant chunk of that comes from the public purse and tuition fees from many students. 

That’s why on top of divestment, we will be calling for more transparency in university investments; places for student and staff representatives on finance committees and formalised processes for disputing investment decisions. Divestment is an environmental and a human rights campaign. But it’s also about democracy on your campus and beyond. It’s about responsible financial decisions that will benefit the institution and society at large. And crucially, it’s about social justice and the wellbeing of people. 

The divestment campaign is exciting because instead of being side-lined as a ‘green issue’, it has become mainstream. It’s exciting because it’s made up of ordinary people around the world who have realised its significance. It’s exciting because it’s not about hiding behind bureaucracy, but seeing real action. 

We need students’ associations across Scotland to be arguing for these changes. We need students to be running the campaign and organising actions and stunts which gather media attention while we use our access to the boardroom to demand change. 

So now it’s your turn to get involved. We’ve created a campaign pack  so you can run a socially responsible investment campaign on your campus. It’s got everything from busting the finance jargon, suggestions of actions you can run on campus, model motions for your, and simple explanations for why we need to stop burning fossil fuels.

Let’s not dither, let’s divest! 

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