Activists can be found in every demographic, and are looking for a strong, centralised movement that will not waiver under pressure and will make the issues be heard by those in a position to make a change. Clearly, the responsibility to make a strong stance against actions effecting the environment lies not just with individuals, but with prominent institutions, too.
Which is why former Oxford students were furious that the University failed in March to make a decision about divesting the $2 billion it has tied up in fossil fuel funds. Occupying one building, campaigners argued that there is no excuse for a late decision on the matter; oil firms had found three times the amount of fossil fuel than can be burned without extreme risk to our climate.
Academics, prominent alumni and students are banding together to demand that Oxford should be paving the way for University divestment, as Stanford and Glasgow have. George Monbiot claimed he would give back his degree if the university failed to divest, and told the Guardian: “I think Oxford has a moral responsibility to stop procrastinating and to engage with this issue now. Climate change is the great moral question of our age, and ducking it, as Oxford seems inclined to do, is an insufficient response.” And John Clements, who was Oxford University’s director of finance until 2004, also joined campaigners in expressing disbelief that the institution was not more eager to invest in more sustainable energy alternatives.
Clearly, the feeling of disappointment is worsened by the position of leadership that Oxford usually enjoys. If one of the world’s leading universities continues to represent an industry that is implicit in destroying the environment, what hope do we have that other universities will take action?
The University’s connection to the fossil fuel world is more complex than just investment; Royal Dutch Shell funds the University’s geoscience laboratories, which investigate the extraction of polluting fuel such as shale gas.
The pressure will certainly be mounting, as an increasing number of prominent, global institutions divest funds from the industry, including the Rockefeller Brothers, British Medical Association and the World Council of Churches. Scientists assert now that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, two thirds of the fossil reserves in the ground should remain where they are – which means the companies who own these reserves may have been significantly overvalued.
The Guardian’s #KeepItInTheGround campaign has gained serious momentum, with 140,000 people (and counting) calling for major institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest from the oil industry. You can sign up to this campaign here.