Students have the power to act

UK. Glasgow University has become the first European University to begin divesting from fossil fuels.

The institution has £18 million invested and has voted to also freeze further investments. The campaign which involved over 1300 students progressed over a 12 month period resulting in what many will see as the first step in many to a more ethical educational experience.

Lancaster University, UK, is also pursuing a more ethical approach. The University is invested in a portfolio of companies including BAE (global arms manufacturer), BAT (British American Tobacco) and BP (British Petroleum) to name but a few.

Students have begun a similar campaign to Glasgow, having created a list of ethical demands and petitions to gain popular support which would ultimately force the University to take action.

Ethical investments are available and it is these that both UK Universities want their respective institutions to take seriously. Sustainability group People and Planet within the University have been the initial source for pushing fossil fuel divestment whilst being backed by student groups such as the NUS.

The NUS (national union of student) is one of the largest student bodies within the UK – proving the desire to see sustainability taken seriously at a national level.

The question has to be raised, why should Universities be ethical or moral?

The idea is one that was formed from a small group of seemingly radical students several years ago, determined to rescue their institutions from the crux of capitalism and more specifically, from the exploitation and so on that results.

In the eyes of many, the terms ethical or moral are not ones that are ever thought to apply to a University, viewed instead as a purely academic environment.

Although Institutions have come down hard in the past years on protesters, things are beginning to change. Ethical and moral standards have to apply, there is no reason why, if we adopt such principles in our own lives, they cannot also apply to our own places of learning and work.

Trent is following in Glasgow’s footsteps, pushing the University to divest from fossil fuels. Sustainable Trent are at the heart of the battle with a group of students attending a Montreal based conference on how to do exactly what Glasgow did.

Indeed, Trent’s reputation as a sustainable University is being called into question. The University, situated in beautiful scenery epitomises everything a campus should be and it is a just move to ensure it is doing all it can to preserve that environment.

Calvin Beauchesne, recently elected as Environment and Sustainability commissioner for the TCSA, whilst himself being heavily involved with Sustainable Trent is working to ensure the University is doing all it can for the cause. We must ensure those in power are held accountable for their actions and to not be dragged into University bureaucracy.

Despite this, things are only getting worse. French 20th century philosopher Jean Paul Sartre wrote in 1944 a play entitled “Huis Clois” telling the story of a group of people trapped in a room and told they can never leave.

Oddly telling in such times, a way out is required as much in the same way the protagonists argued about the futility of their situation, the same version of politics and decision making is being played out.

For many, the mention of the term “activism” will provoke more questions than should be necessary. In its basic form, the word means enacting the just, ethical and moral. To go beyond and reject what society tells you is the standard.

Trent contains a wide array of groups to get involved with and many campaigns both within the University and locally exist with which to show your support. Therefore it is imperative that the power of the individual not be underestimated as Dante Aligerhi once claimed “the secret of getting things done is to act.”