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Divest for a better future
Ahead of Global Divestment Day tomorrow, guest blogger Piers Telemacque of the National Union of Students, outlines why he thinks that, contrary to many people's opinion, divestment can make a difference.
One of the most common arguments I hear against the divestment movement – the call for organisations to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry – is that it won’t make any difference. Someone else will just buy the stock. It’s not going to bankrupt any oil, gas and coal majors. Even massive investments are a drop in the ocean. So why bother?
First up, it’s worth saying that the aim of divestment isn’t literally bankrupting these companies. It’s to damage their social standing, as well as to simply act on principle. Universities and colleges across the UK are preparing seven million students for a sustainable future. Sadly, many are also undermining our chances of sustainable future by profiting from fossil fuel companies.
This isn’t right. That’s why I’m proud that NUS is a supporter of the divestment movement, and I’m really inspired and excited to be celebrating Global Divestment Day with thousands of other campaigners across the world. But – putting my feelings aside – let’s say that these cynics have a point. Let’s assume that divestment ‘doesn’t make a difference’. If this were true, how could we change that?
The answer is simple. As well as divesting from the problems, we reinvest in the solutions. And a clear solution to the problem of fossil fuel dependence is the rapid and substantive expansion of renewable energy projects. I see initiatives like the Community Energy Coalition as crucial allies to the divestment movement, and an integral part to the creation of a sustainable future.
At heart, community energy is a project of localism, and power redistribution. Because these projects have to be bespoke to every area, it reduces the ability of fossil fuel companies – and the Big Six energy providers in the UK – to monopolise wealth and control. No wonder it doesn’t seem that popular with the big players.
We should celebrate the legislative wins which are making it easier for communities to do take ownership over their own, clean energy. In many ways, it looks like the Infrastructure Bill is on track to do a lot of favours for the fossil fuel industry. But a small saving grace is that it gives people a legal right to a stake in any renewables project in their locality. This is exactly the sort of thing I want to see.
Too often in sustainability and social justice movements, we spend most of our time concentrating on being against things. And that’s fair enough. We need to oppose companies which are being reckless with our future, for sure. But we also need to stand for things – celebrating a shared vision of a better, fairer and more sustainable future. For me, community owned energy projects are a huge part of that.
If you’re pulling your money out of companies this Global Divestment Day, you should also think about where it could make the most positive impact instead. Obviously, I’m not in a position to give actual financial advice. But what I do say is this: just as we take our money away from things on principle, we should give our money to things in the same spirit. We should support the alternatives to our unsustainable society. Not just at the polling station and on the streets, but with our investments too.
That’s how divestment goes beyond being less bad, and becomes a movement for doing more good.
By Piers Telemacque, NUS Vice President for Society & Citizenship. Click here to view the original blog.
13th Feb 2015