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A young demonstrator in Oxford yesterday calling on the University to divest from fossil fuels. Photo: Zoe Broughton.
A young demonstrator in Oxford yesterday calling on the University to divest from fossil fuels. Photo: Zoe Broughton.
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Oxford University 'must divest from fossil fuels'

The Ecologist

1st June 2014

59 University of Oxford academics have signed an open letter urging the University to 'take action on climate change' by ridding its £3.8bn endowment of investments in fossil fuel companies, as hundreds march to demand change.

We can only burn 20% of the carbon in the proven fossil fuel reserves. We'll have reached that limit in 16 years at present rates of consumption.

The letter comes during a university-wide consultation on fossil fuel divestment, set to conclude on June 23.

The consultation was announced following a year of sustained pressure from the student-led Fossil Free campaign, which came to a head on Saturday when over 200 students and residents marched through Oxford calling on the University and City Council to divest from fossil fuels.

In their open letter, the academics argue that Oxford has a "responsibility to show leadership in tackling one of the greatest challenges we as a society currently face."

Heavy-weight support from top academics

Signatories to the letter include Lord Professor Robert May, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, Lesley Gray, Professor of Atmospheric Physics, and Professor Gordon Clark, current director of the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment and former chair of the University's Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee.

"We at Oxford like to claim the mantle of intellectual leadership", said Henry Shue, Professor of Politics and International Relations. "Here is our opportunity to display genuine leadership when it counts."

"We at Oxford like to claim the mantle of intellectual leadership. Here, where the entrenched fossil fuel interests are putting up a nasty and dirty fight to protect the value of the assets that will be stranded if we exit the energy regime they dominate, is our opportunity to display genuine leadership when it counts."

Speaking at the Rally, signatory Dr. Brenda Boardman, emeritus Oxford Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, said: "We can only burn 20% of the carbon in the proven fossil fuel reserves. We'll have reached that limit in 16 years at present rates of consumption. We know about housing bubbles.

"Now we have a carbon bubble, a bubble of unreal value. It is too risky to own shares in this bubble. It has to burst and will burst if we are sane and want to avoid dangerous climate change."

 

USA - 12 Universities already committed to divest

The Oxford letter follows a similar initiative by academics at Harvard, where faculty members called for divestment in a letter released in April this year.

It further cements the international reach of the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has followed the trajectory of the anti-apartheid, South Africa boycott to become the fastest growing movement of its kind in history.

It now enjoys high profile support from opinion leaders as diverse as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Twelve American universities, including Stanford, and 26 cities have already committed to divest. In the UK, People & Planet has launched 46 university and college campaigns since September last year calling for the £5.2 billion currently invested in fossil fuels to be re-invested in more ethically and financially sustainable companies.

Strong student backing

The campaign for divestment has spread quickly across Oxford University and town as well. Nearly 20 college common rooms have passed a motion calling for divestment, as has the university student union. Almost 900 students and alumni have signed a petition calling on the University of Oxford to divest.

Saturday's rally, the largest in the UK so far, conveyed a similar sense of broad support with speakers including university academics, local activists, a medical doctor, trade union representatives, and Church of England clergy, among others.

Michaela Collord, a student at Oxford, said: "It's exciting to see so many professors calling on Oxford to divest. Many have dedicated their careers to warning us about climate change - it's time the University stood by its academics and divested from fossil fuels."

 

 

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