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"UCL won't divest as they're in bed with the fossil fuel industry"

Friday 24-02-2017 - 12:17

Last year we produced a report revealing that 14% of UK universities have links with the fossil fuel industry through their governing members. Angelos Angelidis writes about conflict of interest stalling UCL's struggle to divest.

 

This is yet another article about climate change, a global environmental phenomenon which we have learnt to fear but have ironically become desensitised to. We are slowly becoming numb to news regarding melting glaciers, rising sea levels and environmental disasters. It is a bit like Donald Trump, whose excessive social media presence has somehow made his absurd statements less absurd? I cannot really comprehend how this works but I would be delighted if someone could explain it to me.

This process of desensitisation does not change the fact that we strive to be responsible citizens. We therefore occasionally wake up from our hibernation. For example, when some indigenous people somewhere we have never even heard of before are fighting, tooth and nail, for environmental protection of our planet, against wooden bullets sprung from the womb of oil imperialism. Our empathetic and responsible instincts suddenly switch on, only to do a virtual sprint and ‘save’ them through tweeting our support and outrage. How wonderful it feels to be changing the world one tweet at a time. 

Alright, I might be a bit cynical, but I wish people did take ‘true’ action. I wish a bigger part of civil society got engaged and demanded justice. On that note, I would like to praise the work and time that thousands of people have put in around the world to start and sustain the Fossil Free movement. For anyone who is not familiar with it, Fossil Free is a worldwide divestment movement that fights climate change by demanding that institutions such as governments, banks and universities end their investments in the fossil fuel industry which is responsible not only for environmental destruction but also for gross violations of human rights.

“If it is wrong to wreck the planet then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage,” reads Fossil Free Europe’s mission statement. And over 690 institutions have already listened and taken action leading to five trillion dollars being committed to divestment[1]. By uniting the spheres of society, politics, economics and the environment, Fossil Free is a movement that paves the way towards a decarbonised society whilst also empowering people’s agency on energy-related issues.

As part of the global divestment movement, over the past four years, Fossil Free UCL has been campaigning and lobbying for our university to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. A campaign with such a solid case and support would presumably be successful in a forward-thinking university like ours. Yet we are lagging behind as the list of other universities committed to divest keeps getting longer and longer.

On the 2nd of December, members of Fossil Free UCL had a meeting with the Provost (Prof. Michael Arthur), the Vice-Provost (Rex Knight) and the UCL Director of Finance (Phil Harding). After presenting a very solid case of arguments, we were informed that the final call on this matter lies within the UCL Council. The UCL Council is a board of trustees (chaired by Dame DeAnne Julius, who held a position in the BP board from 2001-2011) which take a wide range of decisions about UCL without any consultation from the student body[2]. In the past, despite the overwhelming support of the Academic Board and a large number of signatures from the student body in favour of UCL divesting from fossil fuel companies, the UCL Council dismissed the matter without even discussing it. This raises the question of who makes up the university body, and how are they represented in decision making? Is the current system democratic enough for an academic institution? Most importantly, can an impartial decision be taken by the UCL Council considering that its chair used to work for one of the biggest oil companies in the world?

It is high time members of the Council saw that our campaign cannot keep being ignored. With over 3,100 signatures on our petition and the support of many academics, the only thing that is stalling us is self-interest and self-righteousness. Our university is managed by a board of trustees who prioritise economic profit over the protection of our planet and the future generations. Ask yourself whether this is the university you are proud to be part of? An undemocratic profit-driven institution that values our voices less than the almighty dollar.

The time is now to get involved, and quoting Mahatma Gandhi (a UCL alumnus): “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

You can sign our petition here: https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/ucl-divest-from-fossil-fuels

You can like our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/FossilFreeUCL

And follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FossilFreeUCL

 

[1] http://gofossilfree.org/uk/revealed-our-5-trillion-movement/

[2] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/srs/governance-and-committees/governance/council

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