£5.2 billion. That’s a huge amount of money, no matter how you look at it this. Unfortunately, this astronomic figure is the amount that British universities puts into the fossil fuel industry. This, however, this attitude is changing for the better. There’s an increasing movement to take this huge investment out of this unsustainable industry, a practice that is known as divestment. Divestment is nothing new, with universities having taken money out of harmful industries in the past, but this attempt at bringing fossil fuel companies into disrepute will be a massive task. A very important workshop on the subject took place at the Student Sustainability Conference at Leeds University.
Andrew Taylor of People & Planet, opened the workshop by explaining some of the key concepts behind the idea. Describing how the oil industry in particular as being an “industry gone rogue,” who ignore the warnings of environmental groups and continue to destroy the environment. He always explained that their motivation is not to stop climate change, but to limit its already-alarming effects.
He then handed over to Colin Baines, the campaign manager of the Co-operative Group, who gave a financial breakdown of the dire situation the fossil fuel companies find themselves in. Warning about an economic meltdown much larger than the 2008 ‘credit crunch’ if fossil fuels are still heavily depended on by the world economy, he also gave some very positive figures about the viability of sustainable energy. Claiming that, by 2025, solar power will be widespread and affordable to use.
Following on from her powerful keynote speech, activist Crystal Lameman briefly spoke about how student engagement with the idea of divestment need to improve. Explaining that students need to get out if the mindset that money is the only function for going into higher education and pay attention to how ethically sound their universities are, it was a more personal take on the idea.
The audience for the workshop were then split into several smaller groups, where they discussed their hopes and ambitions for how they would go about moving their universities towards a more eco-friendly and financially viable way of investing in energy. It was extremely interesting to hear the different points of view of the issue, from a diverse range people from heads of student unions across the UK to Sara Parkin OBE, who eventually provided the closing speech for the entire conference.
If there was one thing to take away from this workshop at Leeds University, then it would be this: the fossil fuel industry is dying. With decreasing natural resources and the increasing affordability of more sustainable ways of producing energy, the nation’s universities would be wise to begin divesting from this sector to keep their campuses (and morals) clean!