It’s Time to Divest, Before There’s Nothing Left to Burn

By Meg Sherman, a student of Modern History and Politics at University of Southampton.

Climate change has been hitting the political headlines with increasing frequency, and for anyone who accepts the foundational science it is usually an invitation to despair. Proposing yet more standards that shouldn’t be assented to, UKIP have predictably attacked EU targets to close most coal plants by 2020, and as public appetite for an eco-socialist agenda swells in surging support for the Greens and a dissident left, more insincere rhetoric about the environment from incumbents will inevitably be wheeled out as the general election’s motorcade rolls in to 2015.

But what is at stake?

Following the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, governments – some of the most conservative too – agreed in 2010 that a core temperature rise above two degrees is too much. Britain has signed this in to law already and states have provisionally agreed to return to Paris next year to oblige further measures to stop us going beyond that tipping point. Beyond it we will definitely be left dealing with catastrophic and extinction-level events, the human and economic cost and damage of which we can only estimate.

The onus of preventing this outcome is mostly on the fossil fuel market whose supply-side policies are one of the major culprits for current global warming levels. However, longstanding and continued investment in energies like oil, gas and coal remain virtually unquestioned by governments, who nevertheless have the power of regulation. At precisely the time we most need a sense of awareness and connect between policy-makers and the capital-markets cashing in on dirty energy, there is scant political will to call out the investment gamble. Perhaps it’s politically expedient for the current executive that people aren’t aware that their pensions are being used by the top 200 companies to gamble on yet more fossil fuel reserves and inflate the carbon bubble, that is, betting on the likelihood politicians will do nothing.

It will be impossible to meet the aim of keeping temperature rises below 2 degrees without escalating the movement to divest from fossil fuels. To the ends of raising awareness of the Higher Education sector’s complicity in a dangerous and corrupt market, student group Fossil Free published an open letter to Southampton University calling for a conscientious and responsible strategy of divestment like that hard-won in Glasgow.

We are sitting on the technology, capacity and expertise that can harness renewable sources of energy and organize society better by redistributing net wealth, but the insolence of a corrupt political class afraid to stand up to the market, it’s rapacious mode of consumption and disregard for planetary life may in the end destroy everything we’ve ever loved.

Open letter: