Fossil fuel? Nein, danke

I’ve just finished writing a comment piece for the Badger, Sussex University’s student newspaper, about University investment in oil & gas companies.  It’s part of a campaign that I and a few students from the School of Global Studies are undertaking to try to get the University to withdraw their funds (‘divest’) from such organisations.  I’ll be updating this blog with our progress.  Here’s the article:

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last decade or two, you’ll be aware of the very real threat to our civilisation posed by climate change, spurred on by the burning of fossil fuels to provide the services demanded by modern societies.  Perhaps less well-known, though, is the concept of ‘unburnable carbon’, and the colossal inertia we are faced with in trying to tackle the problem.

Some degree of global temperature rise is now unavoidable.  Indeed, it has already begun.  By now, the question is where the thermometer stops; international negotiation, underpinned by scientific research, has resulted in the verdict that 2°C is the most we can allow.  Many think of this as some description of a ‘safe limit’, though let’s be clear; even this modest level of warming poses significant risks to global food and water supply, habitats and coastlines.

Recent research, however, puts the scale of the challenge even further into perspective.  Climate change institutes have estimated that if we’re to stick to our target, humanity can afford to release another 560 – 880 billion tonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere before 2050, with almost no emissions thereafter.  Compare this to the reserves of fossil fuels under the ground which coal, oil and gas companies worldwide have on their books; an amount equivalent to a mammoth 2860 GtCO2.  This means that of everything in the ground which companies know they can extract easily, burning about 20% would bring us to our target.  Anything more and we quite literally begin to cook the planet.  In the face of this, companies are still spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year trying to find more fossils under the ground to add to their reserves.  This wilful blindness desperately needs to be stopped.

You may be somewhat surprised, then, to discover that our University has hundreds of thousands of pounds invested in fossil fuel companies.  Nearly all such bodies do, as do churches, local authorities and public pension funds.  This is why student bodies across the globe have begun a movement to demand their institutions stop this practice of profiting from climate change and inadvertently endangering our futures.  The Fossil Free campaign, part of the organisation, has delivered scores of petitions to Vice Chancellors and their equivalents, and we plan to do the same.

A few hundred thousand pounds in isolation means nothing to the industry, but it sends a message that we will not stand for this.  The campaign is gathering momentum.  Universities and religious organisations are divesting; in January the chief of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim suggested governments and businesses do the same.  Norwegian pension fund managers are looking to galvanise the support generated so far by divesting.  These are small steps, but with each new addition the impetus gathers.  Fossil fuels are a gargantuan industry, but the challenge our generation faces is greater.

If you are in support of encouraging Sussex to divest from fossil fuels and implement an ethical policy, please come along to our next meeting at 1630 on AprIl 2nd in Falmer Common Room, and sign the petition at