The University is holding a consultation on whether or not to divest from fossil fuels, and they want to hear from you. They are seeking submissions of evidence and opinions from staff, students and alumni, so take this opportunity to have your voice heard on the issue. There is an online questionnaire at https://www.dur.ac.uk/divestment/ or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Divestment means to un-invest in something for ethical reasons, for example many institutions around the world already refuse to invest in industries such as arms or tobacco. Probably the most high-profile divestment campaign was against apartheid South Africa and the significant financial pressure it put on the apartheid government in the mid-1980s helped to undermine the regime. In this case, however, we’re asking the university to divest from companies that are involved in fossil fuel extraction.
According to NASA, 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity is driving climate change; the burning of fossil fuels is increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and raising the earth’s temperature. Atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by a third since the industrial revolution and the earth’s temperature is rising dangerously. We need to act, and fast. Divesting from fossil fuels is one of the most concrete steps the University can take to prove its commitment to the environment. While environmental initiatives such as Love Food Hate Waste are incredibly valuable and worthwhile, the University’s continued investment in fossil fuels undermines their credibility. Why should the burden of environmental responsibility fall solely to us, the students, whilst the university continues to invest our money in an industry which is threatening our futures?
One the main arguments against divestment is that fossil fuel investments are profitable to the university. Not only is this argument incredibly short-sighted; putting short-term profit above long-term environmental stability, but it is flawed. The risks to the University’s finances are minimal; a 2013 study by Aperio found that the economic risks of divesting from fossil fuel companies in the Russell 3000 Index are ‘statistically irrelevant’. By contrast remaining invested in fossil fuels could have negative economic consequences; a study this year found that The New York State Common Retirement Fund lost at least $5.3 billion over the last three years by remaining invested in fossil fuels. In addition to this is the carbon bubble, a widely respected theory which argues that the value of fossil fuel investments is about to crash dramatically, with some estimates suggesting a devaluation of $100 trillion over the next 20 years. Divestment not only makes environmental sense, it makes economic sense.
Its time for Durham University to take this progressive step and divest, we’re already trailing behind the pack; Glasgow divested in 2014 and since then 25 more universities have followed suit, including Warwick, Sheffield and LSE. For a university so proud of its ranking, we hear remarkably little about how Durham fared in the University League, a ranking which is judged on environmental and ethical performance. Last year Durham was placed an abysmal 81st in the country and the 2016 League is due out in a few weeks. It seems unlikely we will fare any better unless the University takes action, and divestment is a common-sense step towards a greener university. Just for your information Northumbria ranks 40th and Newcastle 12th, so if we’re happy to let them beat us we should carry on as we are.
Follow our divestment consultation event for updates, links to useful articles and ways you can help us demonstrate to the Commission that divestment is the way forward: https://www.facebook.com/events/365742560432335/