Here at Imperial, any mention of divestment from fossil fuels is largely met with one of two responses. The first is a supportive but disheartened reply along the lines of, “yeah, it’s a nice idea but it will never happen”. The second offers a complete aversion to the subject entirely, by changing the topic of conversation. If we are serious about tackling climate change and securing a safer future for society, this atmosphere of apathy needs to change. This is the motivation behind the Divest Imperial Campaign, aiming to encourage the college to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry.
The team behind the campaign want to encourage open discussion on divestment for students and staff alike. We want to stop the conversation from being shut down and address the concerns the campaign provokes. The responses described above don’t come from nowhere and the former in particular has some grounds for scepticism.
Imperial College has £5.4 million out of a £126 million endowment fund directly invested in the fossil industry. This makes Imperial the third-largest UK university investor in fossil fuels. The difficulty however, is that Imperial receives a huge amount research funding from the fossil fuel industry. There are a large number of people working in the Royal School of Mines, for example, whose research solely depends on this funding.
However, the source of research funding should not determine where Imperial invest their funds. It is ludicrous to believe that the only reason the fossil fuel industry gives money to Imperial is because Imperial then re-invest back into fossil fuels. The industry provides funds for their own benefit.
Fossil fuels are becoming ever more difficult to extract and process, making the industry increasingly reliant on the results from the research they fund. They also receive endless amounts of graduates from the college year on year. The running joke that there is a secret tunnel running from the chemical engineering building at Imperial to Shell headquarters speaks for itself.
The notion of divestment at Imperial may seem controversial, but when it is placed next to the stated missions and aims of the college it becomes a lot more palatable. The college state their “mission is to achieve enduring excellence in research and education in science… for the benefit of society.” Is there anything more beneficial to society than taking action on climate change? Yet by investing in fossil fuels, the college seems to be doing the opposite. Burning fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change and once they’re out of the ground I doubt they will be doing anything other than being burnt. The college further states that it “aims… to address science challenges of today and the future”. Fossil fuel companies are known funders of climate change denialism and inaction, as well as committing countless human rights abuses. To effectively address the challenges of today and the future, Imperial must stop investing in this industry by simply applying their aims and mission to their investment policy.
As a finite resource, fossil fuels will inevitably not be around forever and only serve as a short-term solution to growing energy consumption. As Imperial aims to “empower graduates… to contribute to the long-term needs of society”, we welcome our college to follow through on this commitment. Imperial are getting left behind as many other UK universities, such as King’s College, are now committed to divestment in fossil fuels. The divestment campaign is continuing to play a vital role in encouraging Imperial to catch up. Watch this space.