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The case for climate action

Guest blog from Dr. Philip Goodwin, Associate Professor in Earth Systems Dynamics,  School of Ocean and Earth Sciences.

 

As a scientist working in the field of climate change and the carbon cycle, I believe strongly that urgent action is needed.

The truth is, climate change is not a new problem. People have known about the potential for human-caused changes in Earth’s climate for a very long time. The ability of different greenhouse gasses to trap heat was measured back in the 1850s and 1860s. It was quickly realised that if the atmosphere held more of a particular greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, then the climate would be generally warmer.

People have also known that burning fossil fuels, and clearing and burning forests, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured continuously since the late 1950s. By the late 1970s it was obvious that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was going up year-after-year, and that human emissions were the cause. Measurements now show that carbon dioxide levels are rising ever faster, because each year more fossil fuels are burnt and more forests are cleared.

A big problem with carbon dioxide is that it is difficult to remove from the atmosphere once it has been put there. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit goes into the ocean, and some gets taken up by land, but the rest will stay in the atmosphere keeping the Earth’s climate warmer than it would be naturally for thousands of years.

Daily temperature records at many locations across the globe have been taken for a long time, with a number of records going back as far as the 1850s. Different teams around the world have looked at the available temperature measurements, and all have agreed on what they mean for Earth’s average surface temperature: so far, temperatures are around 1 degree Centigrade warmer than they were in the late 1800s. The only way we can explain this 1 degree warming is by considering the impacts humans have had on the atmosphere, principally the increase in carbon dioxide.

If nothing is done to limit fossil fuel use and the clearing of forests, then the further increases in carbon dioxide are due to cause Earth’s temperatures to rise by another 3 or 4 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. Such additional warming would have drastic and devastating consequences. To avoid the most serios consequences of man-made climate change, most of the world’s nations have already signed up to keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees warmer than it would naturally be, and take steps to achieve just 1.5 degrees warming.

All this shows why it is so important to act quickly now, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit every year. The less carbon we emit now, the less warming future generations will have to cope with. Eventually, to stop climate warming further, we will have to live in a completely carbon-neutral society.

The more quickly we can achieve a carbon-neutral society, and phase out fossil fuels altogether, the less warming future generations will face. Urgent and significant action is now required: to stop warming going above 1.5 degrees Centigrade, assuming we start emissions reductions now, we will need to reach a carbon-neutral society by the year 2050.

All the information needed to make good decisions for our future climate is out there, and has been for a long time. This is an urgent problem that is only going to get worse unless good decisions are made, both on individual and governmental levels. This is why I am keen to see meaningful action on climate – now.

 

 

Counting the cost of casualisation

The current strike ballot on pay, workload, and equality highlights the problems faced by casualised staff. These could be staff on fixed-term contracts (like the vast majority of our early career researchers) or those on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts, with staff working for a relatively small number of hours per semester (such as with some of our teaching (and other) staff).

A UCU survey from earlier this year prompted 67 responses from Southampton University staff (1.8% of total respondents). The report explored financial insecurity within this group, with respondents to the survey clearly reporting real problems resulting from the precariousness of their income – see tables below copied from the report.

About 60% of respondents have experienced problems with making ends meet, 40% with paying bills, and 30% with paying their rent.

Have you experienced any of the following issues as a result of your employment on insecure contracts? Numbers answering yes Percentage
Problems securing rented accommodation 571 28%
Problems paying rent 613 29.8%
Problems getting a loan 562 27.4%
Problems paying bills 828 40.3%
Problems making ends meet 1228 59.8%
Problems with VISA status 149 7.3%
Problems accessing or maintaining access to benefits 263 12.8%

 

Staff also reported high levels of stress – caused in part by financial insecurity but also by the nature of the work depending on the contract (such as not enough time to prepare, no dedicated workspace and so on).

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = not stressful at all and 10 = extremely stressful, how stressful do you find working on an insecure contract?
  Numbers of responses Percentage of respondents
10 (extremely stressful) 649 24.6%
9 472 17.9%
8 682 25.9%
7 391 14.8%
6 163 6.2%
5 105 4%
4 46 1.7%
3 75 2.8%
2 22 0.8%
1 (not stressful) 33 1.3%

 

For the full report and all findings see Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education – Key findings of a survey June 2019.

Casualisation can mean insecurity, inability to progress and unfair disadvantage. Whilst short-term contracts are often embedded in current research funding models, the recent UCU survey showed that the large majority (97% of respondents) on a fixed-term contract would rather be on a permanent contract, while 80% of those who were hourly-paid would rather be on a contract that guaranteed them hours, even if it meant less flexibility.

The HESA figures for 2017/18 show that of the 2,995 academic staff in the University of Southampton, 1,235 are on fixed-term contracts. We do not have figures for how many are on hourly paid contracts locally. We would like to hear from members here about their experiences of casualised contracts, the impact on themselves, on colleagues and on students. Write in confidence direct to ucu@soton.ac.uk.

And in the context of the current ballot, we urge members to vote to end rising job insecurity.

 

Climate strike rally – thanks for supporting our event

 

Thanks to all who attended the rally in Jubilee Plaza, to our excellent speakers who gave the gathered crowd plenty to think about, and to others who tweeted images, pledges and requests for action.

Also thanks to the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) who planted a tree close to Jubilee Plaza directly after the rally.

 

We are of course only at the beginning of a journey and we intend to work closely with SUSU, other Union colleagues and the University Executive Board (UEB) to ensure that the University achieves the commitments in Southampton City Green Charter (see earlier posts for links).  Any suggestions for activities or actions in the future are welcome, but watch this space…

#climatestrike 20th September, 1200-1230, Jubilee Plaza

Friday will be a major day of global action for the Climate Strike and last week the TUC passed a motion (tabled by UCU) to support the school student Global Climate Strike on 20th September and has called on TUC affiliate unions to organise a 30 minute work day campaign action to coincide with the school students strike on 20th September.

Please come along, if you can, to demonstrate your support. There are a range of speakers confirmed – all will be saying a few short words on #climatestrike and they are:

  1. Bea Gardner (UCU Postgraduate Representative and SUSU link)
  2. Emily Harrison (President, SUSU)
  3. Rachel Mills (Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences)
  4. Simon Kemp (Professorial Fellow in Education for Sustainable Development)
  5. Roger Tyres (Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Come to pledge your support for the school strikers, and make practical suggestions to help the University as a whole fulfil the Southampton Green Charter commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

20th September – support the climate strike

If you can, please come along to the rally at the Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus from 12pm on Friday 20th September. Bring with you placards/ posters and other messages of support if you want to.

If you cannot attend but want to offer your support you can use the national hashtag #climatestrike and #UCUclimatesolidarity, making sure you copy in @southamptonUCU and @Unisouthampton so we can circulate your message. We are pleased that the University management is supporting the rally and they are extending the invitation to all staff to attend.

We are also encouraging people to respond to the following two statements, outlining the individual and collective changes you want to see relating to the environmental impact of the university.

  1. I pledge to…
  2. I call on the university to…

You can either share your ideas at the rally or tweet/ email us using the details above. Given this is a rally related to the environment, we encourage people to be creative with their use of materials for placards and suggestions, using recycled paper and materials where you can.

Why are we doing this?

We are organising the rally to pledge our support for the Climate Strike and the young strikers taking action against climate injustice. We also hope the rally provides an opportunity for us to come together as a university community to confirm our commitment to reducing our impact on the climate and we are pleased that the university and other campus trade unions are joining with us for this important event.

Since February, millions of students across the globe have been striking from school and college to protest climate injustice. Their action has contributed to governments across the world declaring a climate emergency. Yet, without sustained effort, such declarations will not be enough. Global temperature rise will pass a dangerous tipping point within the lifetime of young people alive today if action to halt climate change isn’t taken – we are running out of time. So, to keep up the pressure on leaders, young strikers have appealed to the trade union movement to support them in their struggle, with 20 September the given date for this action to take place.  You can read more about UCU’s approach nationally here and the Youth Strike4 Climate campaign here.

Future plans

This is the first action we have organised of this kind, so it is just the start. We will work in partnership with the other campus trade unions, students and the wider staff body to develop proposals that can move us closer to meeting our commitments to the environment. If you would like to be involved in this ongoing campaign work, let us know.

 

 

Climate Strike – 20 September 2019

In our blog of the 22nd July we said that we would be offering public support for the next ‘Climate Strike’ organised by the Student Climate Network.  This is to confirm that there will be a lunchtime event for staff and students between 1200 and 1230 on Friday 20th September at Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus. The University is fully supportive of this and hopes to offer speakers, and is involved in planning the event and communications. We have yet to confirm exactly what will take place but please check back on this blog for more details.

On the same day there are other events – for instance there will be a city-based event between 1100 and 1600 in Guildhall Square, and October Books in Portswood are hosting a range of activities between 1300 and 1700.

If you are unable to get to Highfield Campus on that day, but would like to explicitly offer your support we encourage you to do something locally at your campus or wherever you are at the time. You can publish a photo of you and your colleagues via the hashtag #ClimateStrike using @SouthamptonUCU and @unisouthampton.

More information to follow… suggestions also welcome!   Send these to the UCU office 

You can find more information about how  UCU is supporting the Climate Strike here

 

 

 

 

UCU letter to employers’ assertions about the USS dispute

The date for the opening of the ballot on USS pensions is fast approaching (opens 9 September – look out for your ballot paper!).   UCU national negotiators have set out the demands to our employers in the letter below, a copy of which was sent from our branch to the VC, Professor Mark Spearing, today.  We hope for a positive response which we will share with members.

 

 

Support the climate strikes

Following the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report late last autumn, there has been a renewed drive from environmental campaigners to see meaningful action to halt climate change. The report warned we have less than 12 years to cut carbon emissions by 45% to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. Leading the call to action have been thousands of inspiring young people, who have been taking monthly strike action to protect their futures. As part of the student climate network, they have highlighted that, without action, they will face a runaway greenhouse effect in their lifetimes. 

Many staff and students here at Southampton share this commitment to protecting the environment, and we have seen several protest actions on the issue at Highfield campus in recent months.   Southampton UCU branch is pleased that the University was a founding signatory to the Southampton Green City Charter, which was launched in June. The charter includes the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we look forward to hearing how the university plans to meet this substantial, but necessary, commitment.  In addition, following discussion at our recent AGM, Southampton UCU branch has endorsed the Southampton Green City Charter and will follow these principles in our future activities. 

 Meanwhile, school students have appealed to the trade union movement to support their next strike action. UCU proudly responded to this call by unanimously passing a motion to take solidarity action with young people, including a 30-minute work stoppage on 20th September.  The national UCU will submit a motion to the upcoming Trade Union Congress (TUC) to support this action. UCU Southampton Branch has officially backed it and you can declare your individual support for the solidarity stoppage and read more about the TUC motion here.

 In liaison with the student union and the Southampton Trades Council, Southampton UCU plans to hold a lunchtime rally on the 20th.  We will keep members updated as plans develop in the coming weeks. We are still looking for a UCU environment rep to join the executive and to lead on this and related work – if you are interested in getting involved, please let us know.

 

 

USS update

If you attended the AGM earlier this month, you will already know that there is going to be a ballot for further strike action this Autumn. The UCU position is one of No Detriment, and the decision to ballot for strike was proposed and accepted at Congress earlier this summer. In April, our pension contributions increased from 8% to 8.8%. The current proposals from USS will increase the total contributions of employers and scheme members by at least a further 1.4%, with our member contributions rising by at least 1.3% since the start of the dispute. If the employers do not agree additional contingent contributions, the increases will be even worse.USS is proposing rates that will increase our contributions to at least 11% after 2020.

Industrial action by UCU members led to the establishment of a Joint Expert Panel last year, comprising both UCU and UUK representatives. The Panel confirmed UCU’s belief that the pension scheme has a sustainable future, and made reasonable recommendations to USS. If applied, these recommendations would have resolved our dispute and would have resulted in no contribution increases or benefit cuts for members. Our employers however, instead of committing fully to the Joint Expert Panel recommendations, are proposing we should increase our contributions based on a pessimistic valuation of the scheme.

And a story came to light in the last week (featured in USS briefs on twitter and in the FT) that the Chair of USS trustees (David Eastwood) was rebuked by the Pension’s Regulator (tPR) for misrepresenting the tPR position on an issue key to that valuation. Currently VC of Birmingham University, David Eastwood was told in January that the USS report mistakenly suggested that the tPR insisted on using the most cautious of discount rates, which resulted in a larger projected deficit. Despite an email on the subject, he and the board have done nothing to correct their statements or acknowledge the potential impact on the valuation of the scheme. We also have to wonder what the effect on the negotiations would have been had this been made public to all parties at the time. You will also have seen this in UCU General Secretary elect Jo Grady’s most recent email (from Monday 24thJune).

This follows reports that a USS trustee (statistics expert Professor Jane Hutton) claims to have been prevented from carrying out a full analysis of the scheme valuation.

A further complication to the debate is the decision (confirmed 20thJune) of Trinity College, Cambridge to withdraw from USS – on the grounds that there was a remote risk that its assets would be required to bail out the scheme in a worst-case scenario. UCU has already called for a boycott of Trinity College – as outlined in the brief from Head Office on the 21stJune.

To keep up to date with USS developments you could follow FT journalist Josephine Cumbo on Twitter or visit the UCU USS pages.

Southampton UCU BBQ

We braved the weather and held a barbecue for UCU members and their families on Thursday 20th June on the Common outside of Avenue Campus. Alongside the feast of meaty and vegetarian hotdogs, it was an opportunity to chat, meet new people and recreate the very friendly and constructive atmosphere of the picket line last year. It was also the last appearance of the Dinosaur of Solidarity and an opportunity to thank Cathy Pope for all her work for this branch. We will miss her a lot but, as she wisely said, we are a very active branch, with lots of new people and ideas. The barbecue was the first in a long series to come, and more UCU social events will follow starting in September!