Is Imperial morally bankrupt? I first asked myself this question in 2011 when I started my Biology undergraduate. My department had just sacked most, if not all of its plant scientists. There was no money in the field. Have I come close to an answer since? Maybe. Sometimes I’ve looked at Imperial and higher education in the UK in general and I’ve felt disgusted by it. The way research is determined by corporate giants, whether that’s Big Oil or Pharma, or whether it’s weapons, or it’s banks. The way academics are pressured to publish, to bring in the money, to ignore things that in any other workplace would be uncompromisable. The way students are seen as cash cows, cheap labour, endless in supply, desperate.
Other times I look around me and I can’t help but be in awe. Of the people I’m surrounded by; some of my generation’s brightest minds. Of the ideas that are constantly being exchanged, lighting up the eyes of students and staff. Of the tenacity with which some people can hunt for ideals, knowledge, dreams.
The struggle to divest lies at the border between the dark and the light sides of science. We know fossil fuel use is unsustainable. Every step of the production line in the fossil fuel industry ravages the environment and detriments our health. Yet our civilisation relies on it still.
I understand the energy crisis humanity is facing at the moment is a challenging one. But unfortunately it’s one we have to overcome, there is no alternative. We change or we go down with the ship.
And here is where it gets complicated. As much as I might badmouth it (and I do a lot), I don’t believe Imperial to be morally bankrupt. But I do think that as a science institution we get trapped in the numbers and facts and logistics and practicalities and complexities of the situation. And maybe it’s time to take a step back from the science and think about the ethics of our actions, of our investments.
It’s time to make a decision based on our heart and invest in our dreams instead.