Invest Positive UoS are a student led campaign that are calling upon the University of Southampton to agree to invest responsibility and vow to not invest in the most damaging fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms trade.
The University is in a particularly lucky position in that approximately 99% of the money available for investments is believed to be held as cash and not currently invested in anything. This largely avoids the issue of asking the University to sell off shares in companies that are not socially responsible and gives both students and staff the opportunity to encourage the University to invest responsibly for the future of its students.
Fossil fuels will not last forever. This is a fact. The question is not if they will run out, but when. Data from the CIA World Factbook believes this crisis will occur in 2052, based on the current reserves we have. Now more reserves can be found, but what does prolonging the inevitable achieve? We may be able to add a few extra years to this date, but basic mathematics determines that we cannot continue to use fossil fuels in the way that we do for much longer. Even if you do not believe that fossil fuels are a cause of climate change, they are running out and we need to find something sustainable to replace them.
Renewable energy is making some fantastic strides in production. Recently, Denmark produced 140% of its daily demand just from wind power and has now vowed to have 100% renewably sourced energy by 2050. On our own soil, Scotland broke records last November to produce 107% of the country’s electrical needs and WWF believe that Scotland could be 100% renewable by 2030 from mainly wind power.
Renewable energy cannot immediately replace the role of fossil fuels. However, rather then adopting an accepting attitude of the issues with renewables, so deciding to instead stick with fossil fuels, we need a new attitude to put all efforts into fixing these problems. This is especially relevant when thinking about where to invest. Do we invest in a product that is damaging to the planet and will run out? Or do we invest in creating a sustainable future? Every student at the University of Southampton has put money from their tuition fees into the pot and deserves to have transparency and a say in where this money is being invested.
This campaign has already had some great traction with over 50 signatories, including 14 members of academic staff and 11 society presidents. We are looking for support from the Students’ Union and this was recently discussed in a Union Council meeting on 19th October where, after a lively debate, it was passed on to the sustainability zone committee to have a longer debate on the finer details of the policy’s wording. This proved a positive and helpful discussion and the policy will be brought back to Union Council on the 8th December.
The main issue that was debated in Council was the inclusion of the arms trade. On one hand, many people believe that the University shouldn’t be investing in companies that are exporting their arms to what the UN describe as “countries of concern”; which have poor or disgraceful human rights records. On the other hand, arms companies can provide job opportunities for students and some people believe that we shouldn’t sever ties with them. This was discussed further in the committee meeting to clear up some of these issues. First of all, in view of the endowment fund likely still being held as cash, we are not primarily asking for current investments to be sold; simply requesting a more transparent, ethical approach going forward. Secondly, this only applies to investments and so educational links with these companies can remain intact at the discretion of departments, academics and, of course, the students themselves. Southampton has a highly diverse student body made up of students from all around the world. As such, we believe that it would be inappropriate for the University to invest in companies that produce weapons to be used in countries not only where some of our students are from, but also where human rights abuses are taking place (more on this here).
This is a fantastic movement all across the UK and the globe, where Universities are deciding to divest from socially irresponsible companies. Many Universities have already made pledges, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Warwick and Oxford. The University of Southampton now has the opportunity to help lead the way for a more sustainable future alongside its peers.