59 Oxford academics urge University to divest from fossil fuels

Fifty-nine 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.

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 150 students and residents marched through Oxford calling on the University and council to divest from fossil fuels. 

photographer: Hugh Warwick

photographer: Hugh Warwick

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.”

Henry Shue, Professor of Politics and International Relations:

“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.”

Signatories to the letter come from all corners of the university and 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.

Credit: People & Planet, peopleandplanet.org

Credit: People & Planet, peopleandplanet.org

Michaela Collord, a student at Oxford:

“It’s exciting to see so many professors calling on Oxford to divest. Many have dedicated their careers to warning us about climate change, but we’ve seen nothing like the concerted effort needed to heed these warnings, either from the fossil fuel companies themselves or our politicians. It’s time the University stood by its academics and divested from fossil fuels.”

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.

In the UK, 46 university and college divestment campaigns have been launched since September last year. The campaign has spread quickly across Oxford University and town.

Nearly 20 college common rooms have passed a motion calling for divestment, as has the university student union.

Saturday’s rally conveyed a similar sense of broad support. Speakers included university academics, local activists, a medic, trade union representatives, and Church of England clergy, among others.

Al Chisholm, Oxford resident and mother of two who co-organised the rally:

Al Chisholm, founder of the Oxfordshire fossil free campaign, and son Jude Credit: Hugh Warwick

Al Chisholm, founder of the Oxfordshire fossil free campaign, and son Jude
Credit: Hugh Warwick

“With the devastating floods in Oxfordshire this year, we have seen what havoc climate change can inflict on our communities, and it’s only going to get worse. The fossil fuel industry is currently refusing to align its business practice with a low carbon energy future. We are marching today to show support for Oxfordshire Councils to take decisive action and divest from fossil fuels and we will keep up the pressure to make sure they do the right thing. We are extremely happy that Oxford residents and students are standing together on this issue.”