To Divest or not to Divest that is the Question?

Fossil fuels, the bane of environmentalists; and enormous profits for fossil fuel companies. Why is it so difficult to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground where it naturally belongs? Is it also a good idea to invest your hard earned money into it? So should Durham University divest from fossil fuels? Yes, they should!

We all know why we use fossil fuels and their by products. Heating our homes, driving cars, and buying ready packed tomatoes snuggled up in plastic are just a few things of many. Last February there was a debate to determine whether it is a good idea for Durham University to divest from fossil fuels. Before the debate got started participants watched “Do The Math”, a video by

I want to focus on Professor Jon Gluyas’ case against divestment (as I am for Durham University divesting), specifically his piece “Fossil fuel divestment campaign is misdirected” written for University World News.

But first I would like to look at a piece in the Palatinate. I take issue with the idea that “academics’ jobs may be jeopardised”. So let me rattle my cage. It happens that Durham University is heavily into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. That is probably why the university has partnerships with fossil fuel companies and is reluctant to divest. The concern is that fossil fuel companies will take their money elsewhere and in doing so some “academics’ jobs may be jeopardised”.

There is so much research to do in the area of green energies that academics need not fear that their jobs are at risk. The time is now for fossil fuel companies to invest their vast fortunes in green energies, it would be unwise of them not to. And I am not talking about CCS, which is not CO2 zero, as around 10% of CO2 is released into the atmosphere with CCS. 350ppm of CO2 is deemed to be a safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and it stands now around 400ppm, above the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and CCS will add to this.

The article in the Palatinate ask the questions, “should this work be stopped? And if so, why?”

I will go back to Professor Jon Gluyas’ case against divestment to answer these questions. Professor Gluyas knows only too well the dangers of climate change, and it is noble to do research into technologies that will slow global warming, but CCS from what I can see will not do that. Any technology that involves the use of fossil fuels will mean these dirty, unhealthy fuels will always be dug up in one form or another. The best place for these fuels is in the ground where they belong, and the Professor agrees with that, so why not divest?

I gather that Professor Gluyas thinks that the best way to obtain energy security (until renewable energies are fully in place), is to keep power stations running (in the short term) with CCS technology. By burning the amount of fossil fuels in them that is deemed to be safe to burn (we seem to be on the edge of safe levels, extreme weather events are happening now), to keep within the 2C warming limit. Then transporting and storing the CO2 in old oil and gas fields (and/or oceans).

The big argument for continuing the burning of fossil fuels and the use of their offshoot commodities is always “economics”. The environment does not recognize economics, it just reacts to it when we throw a spanner in the works and upset the balance of nature. But governments adore economics so much so that they published a paper via the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, about carbon capture and storage. From the “Ninth Report of Session 2013–14”:

“The cost of deploying CCS
26. Despite the potential benefits to the UK of deploying CCS, it is very unlikely to become commercial on its own (unless the CO2 is sold for EOR). The combination of significant energy and – in the absence of an effective carbon market–financial costs make CCS uneconomic.”

There you have it, CCS is “uneconomic”.

It is time to change and move away from fossil fuels and the technologies that keep them going. Professor Gluyas points out the benefits and consequences of fossil fuels, and it would seem in the Professor’s case that the benefits outweigh the consequences when he adds CCS to the equation. Fossil fuels, plus CCS, plus GDP (gross domestic product), equals global warming; and it is uneconomical.

Professor Gluyas writes “we have begun to experience the consequences in terms of climate change and the situation will get ever worse as we fail to act.” Yes, that is right but CCS is not the answer, CCS is not zero CO2 and it is zero CO2 energies that we need, and it is expensive. Wave technologies look promising, especially the floating kind. “Imagine then a wind turbine, but underwater, and not fixed to the seabed – these so-called “mobile floating turbines” are a cheaper and more adaptable alternative to big, fixed developments.” That is the kind of research we need, the whole of the UK can be powered by it, and it does not produce CO2, and looks cost effective. This wave technology may not put our energy bills up as much as CCS will.

If you give governments an alternative to fossil fuels by putting all efforts into cheaper renewable energies such as the floating turbines, governments need not be concerned with global markets. In any case all life should be above global markets. The world is in crisis, and putting people before profit makes sense. Hopefully at this year’s climate talks in Paris in December governments will be willing to enact laws to curb fossil fuel usage. Presenting CCS as a good option to meet future energy needs and curb CO2 emissions is folly, because CCS is not zero CO2, and is costly. Professor Gluyas makes another point that levels of “…carbon dioxide have risen. Moreover, there is plenty of remaining oil, gas and coal to ensure that, unabated, the rising trend will continue.” Yes, the rising trend will continue, it will continue with carbon-capture and storage! CCS will contribute to CO2 in the atmosphere.

If this technology is distributed around the world (and assuming poor countries can afford to buy it, it will be expensive), there will still be CO2 emissions adding to what is already there. CCS will not slow global warming with any effect, because with CO2 at around 400ppm at this moment in time, the world already experiences more droughts, floods, air pollution, heatwaves, bushfires, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and the melting of the polar ice caps. I could go on…

The Professor is concerned that “’Big Oil‘ is the wrong target”, and that trying to change these companies (presumably into green energy companies) “would not make any difference to emissions”. He argues that control would be shifted to companies in the world “oblivious” and “likely hostile” to Climate change will effect them too. All fossil fuel companies will have to ditch unsustainable energies eventually, they may be “oblivious” but not for long. Whether they believe in what is saying or not, they cannot ignore their own senses and well-being.

Professor Gluyas is also concerned that we should not restrict the development of peoples who have not benefited from the “petroleum age”. Petroleum is a dirty fossil fuel that contributes to global warming. If you can call climate change a benefit of the petroleum age, these “peoples” do not need that kind of benefit.

The power that generates my electricity is wind, and the Sun heats my hot water six months of the year. We do not need to rely on fossil fuels or CCS for our energy needs if we get a move on with renewable energies such as wind, solar and wave technologies. And we do not have to be dependent on petroleum for plastics. Bioplastics seems a good route for further research, to obtain zero CO2 in the process and manufacture of bioplastics.

Putting captured carbon back into the ground (and/or oceans) is not the Holy Grail for our warming problem. Carbon capture and storage are not tried and tested technologies, not in the long term (and we do not have a long term). There are also problems with CCS. Oil wells that are not plugged properly could release CO2; part of the process that forms a seal to trap oil and gas can fracture due to overpressure, allowing CO2 to escape. Shallow oil and gas fields are unsuitable to store CO2, as CO2 could easily escape. The oceans can become more acidic. There is also transport safety, machinery failure, pipe fractures, the unknown and the fact that CCS is not zero CO2 to start with. Also geothermal energy is not economical and not zero CO2, and mucking about with aquifers is iffy. The floating wave technology seems cost effective, does not produce CO2, and can power the whole of the UK.

Carbon capture and storage and geothermal technologies, even working alongside renewables is unlikely to maintain a 21st century lifestyle. It is because of modern lifestyles past and present that we have global warming. If you have technologies that produce CO2 no matter how small, that still adds to the problem.

Professor Gluyas writes “Instead of condemning the fossil fuel industries, we should be working to change the attitude of governments that own the fossil fuel resources so as to keep those resources in the ground.” And that is what are trying to do, and other climate change organizations along with many many individuals who understand what is happening to our environment. But will fossil fuel companies lobby governments to keep fossil fuels in the ground, or will they just carry on as normal? CCS is not an encouragement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The fossil fuel industries have to change their attitudes. By continually providing technologies that use fossil fuels (even in the short term), these fuels will continue to be dug up and used, beyond what is deemed to be safe. That seems to be the nature of human beings, if they can turn a profit the temptation is too great. That is why we need renewable energies in place to make fossil fuels unprofitable.

No one wants people out of work but fossil fuels have had their day and much more. It is time for these companies to put their wealth into zero CO2 technologies, such as wave technologies for instance. That makes commercial sense, and it will keep people in employment.

Time is short, wave technologies can be in place quicker than CCS and geothermal, and could be cheaper and healthier for everyone. That is where your research should lie. Fossil fuel companies have been lobbying governments for years for their own concerns, it is time for them to lobby governments to get a move on with renewable energies. That is where energy security lies, so fight with not against them.

To answer the questions in the Palatinate; CCS and geothermal technologies are uneconomical, and there is a lot of research still to be done. CCS is not tried and tested (not in the long term), is not CO2 zero, and will take far too long to implement. In addition, accidents can leak CO2, and CCS could encourage the production and use of fossil fuels long past their sell by date. The work on CCS and geothermal should be given over to research on renewable technologies such as wave. There is a nice wear a stone’s throw from the university to get research into floating wave technology up and running. That is where BP should be putting their resources, and that is why Durham University should divest, to encourage fossil fuel companies to give up the ghost and go green!

We live on one world with no plan B, we cannot hop to another planet, and there is no room to get it wrong and try again. You have to be absolutely 100% sure you are going down the right path or we are all going to be taking an early bath.

Durham Divestment Campaign Film Premier

A short film by members of People & Planet and Transition Durham will be shown at this event, coming up on Sunday June 28th. “De-Oiling Durham” (teaser) explains the rationale for divestment from fossil fuels and looks at local alternatives. This is part of the “Footprint Modulation” programme of events.

silenceTreason_A4-poster_PREVIEW silenceTreason_A5-back_PREVIEW

What are the costs (social and environment) of divesting from fossil fuel companies? A personal view from “climateer”


While opening Café Politique on Tuesday 28th April 2015, Holly Flynn-Pierce noted that this event had been solely organised by a graduate student of Ustinov College, namely myself, a PhD student in Political Geography and affiliate researcher of the Durham Energy Institute. In my opinion, this discussion was a landmark debate — all three speakers gave an excellent account of three similar opinions about Divestment from fossil fuels. It is true that intellectual curiosity as an academic has been the main reason for investigating so-called ‘discourse’ on the Divestment movement. I also feel a responsibility to perform a role — as an academic, as a poet, and as a global citizen.

This blog appears exactly one month after the Café Politique event for a few reasons. I hope that this blog post acts as a follow-up to discussion about Durham’s Divestment from fossil fuels campaign; to pick up the discussion from where ‘we’ left off; to offer further clarity about the arguments raised. This blog also appears exactly one month before I perform poetry at the Empty Shop, Durham, on 28th June 2015 on the theme of global fossil fuel use and climate change. This live performance will take place as part of the Footprint Modulation initiative hosting live commentaries, performances and debates exploring climate change, global justice and human displacement.

Finally, this is a blog post by me; not representative of the entire Divestment from fossil fuels campaign; not a representation of the ideas of the three academic speakers at Café Politique; not a voice on behalf of others in Durham who are either a part or yet to become a part of the general debate — although many of these camps might agree with me. I aim to raise awareness on this debate and call for others to continue raising the profile of the campaign in Durham, which is a city not only historically of huge significance to ‘energy politics’ in the UK but home to a leading academic institution in both physical and human fields of geography.

Divestment at Durham a month ago

One month ago I introduced my research briefly on European imaginaries of Arctic space, which I explore through analyses of energy and climate change discourse. The exploration of ‘discourse’ — in the popular sense of the meaning — is interesting because it indicates the significance of politics in relation to energy and climate security issues that everyday people face as highly influential actors like national governments and fossil fuel companies seek to address them. With regard to energy and climate security, many agree that the stakes are unbearably high as the human population continues to grow and ‘develop’ at an unprecedented pace while growing carbon emissions lead to rising degrees of global warming and climate change.

With regard to Durham and the UK, the stakes are no different. This is why I organised a panel of speakers to discuss the Divestment from fossil fuels movement, which had originally spurred attention in the USA but thereafter gained momentum across the world and strongly in the United Kingdom. All three speakers were aware of the importance of popular discourse in the run up to the next major United Nations intergovernmental conference on climate change. Many participants were excited to hear that the Divestment from fossil fuels movement has been promoted by the UN itself, while media companies like The Guardian newspaper in the UK contribute to popularising the movement.

One month ago the stage was set for a discussion on whether Divestment at Durham University could lead to social and environmental costs. Most interestingly, the three speakers constituted a plethora of public positions: two professors; two Durham University graduates; one former oil industry exec; one ordained priest; and all writers of published material on the theme of energy and climate change. Thus presentations were varied and included Professor Jon Gluyas’ on energy production; Mr James Leaton on carbon financing; and Professor Michael Northcott on the political theology of climate change. Presentations were followed by questions from the audience in an informal setting comprising members of the public, climate change financiers and academics such as the Principal of Ustinov College, Professor Glenn McGregor, a respected climatologist.

Divestment of fossil fuel industry stocks

Professor Jon Gluyas was the first to mention how, in 2014, Glasgow University became Europe’ first university to divest its fossil fuel stocks. Glasgow is one of 800 organisations to do the same on the basis that emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels has raised the atmospheric content from 260 particles per million (ppm) to today’s 400 ppm with consequent climate change. Thus, he concluded, the fossil fuel industry is considered to be at blame and the aim of the movement joined by Glasgow is to remove the mandate for business of multi-national fossil fuel companies.

However, the movement raises important questions: is Big Oil (gas and coal) to blame? If the campaign is successful, will emissions be reduced? Will national energy security be compromised? Will energy poverty increase? Climate science demonstrates that emissions from fossil fuel burning have increased atmospheric CO2 while studies of the geological past have also proven that high atmospheric CO2 content drives mass extinction. Many would therefore ask, if continued use of fossil fuels would appear suicidal, why continue? Firstly, fossil fuels are energy dense and humankind craves fossil fuels’ cheap energy for purposes of development and future sustainability. In other words, the use of the short term use of fossil fuels brings huge benefits.

One other key argument by the Professor is the geopolitical fear of restricting the power of multi-nationals corporations in the face of competition to control the world’s fossil fuel markets. The general sentiment for this argument is stopping the production and supply of fossil fuels from multi-national companies would lead to the further monopolisation of the industry by ‘unscrupulous’ nationally-owned companies that already own rights to around 90% of global oil and gas reserves. In other words, Gluyas believes that the emasculation of companies like those targeted in the UK will have no effect on carbon emissions because supply will continue under demand and power will shift to companies uninfluenced by scientific evidence or public concern, which will decrease energy security and increase energy poverty.

As citizens hoping for a transition to a future dominated by renewable energy the Professor argues that we must use the technology of the big oil and gas corporations to geo-store CO2 and develop near zero carbon geo-thermal energy. Based on his own research at Durham University, Gluyas estimates this could cut 40% of of the UK’s emissions in twenty years and possibly even go carbon negative in 50 years. Gluyas voiced these arguments earlier this month in University World News, namely that the human race is dependent on fossil fuels and that multi-national corporations are essential to our own British society, both to address the balance of power in the world energy markets and to ensure research goes ahead to curb future carbon emissions.

How to make capital flows fit within the carbon budget

James Leaton from the Carbon Tracker Initiative, London, draws on discourse in fields of economic and climate science, which tells us that the remaining carbon budget to give the planet a chance of limiting warming to 2°C clearly exceeds the coal, oil and gas in the ground (see Carbon Bubble report). Even optimistic projections of CCS application only increase the carbon budget by 14% to 2050. If this can be implemented economically to new emissions sources it moves the dial but does not change the fundamental conclusion that some fossil fuels must stay in the ground compared to business as usual projections of consumption.

This climate logic has prompted those investing in fossil fuels to start questioning who the winners and losers will be. This discourse founds Leaton’s presentation on ‘how to make capital flows fit within the carbon budget,’ which argues that all fossil fuels are not equal in terms of cost, carbon intensity, potential substitution, and geographic distribution, which is why the energy transition towards a low carbon future is a complicated financial challenge we must all work hard to address. Such a provocative economic analysis is much needed today, especially with regard to forcing governments and other influential institutions to take seriously the repercussions of investing in an industry that contributes towards a ‘carbon bubble’ about to go bust.

Leaton’s presentation explored coal and oil, which are two of the most productive forms of energy with the highest output of carbon emissions. Both energy sectors provide insight into understanding the implications of the fossil fuel industry on the rest of the world in terms of economic growth and stability while also factoring climate change reduction. Regardless of whether Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a viable solution to carbon emissions it is still ‘late to the game,’ Leaton says, because the cost of applying this technology to new streams is too expensive. Essentially, the most challenging assumptions about the current status of fossil fuels relates to the future of the energy sector: does this include electric vehicles? Is storage technology viable?  What are the costs of renewables? How do we factor international developments like Chinese peak coal demand on oil volatility, climate change reduction or GDP growth rates?

With regard to the cost of Divestment at Durham from an economic perspective the movement appears logical as governments and other influential institutions have shown signs of moving away from high cost carbon projects and collectively aiming to meet carbon emissions reduction targets. As demonstrated by the Bank of England putting climate change on its research agenda, regulators are starting to recognise that the financial system is crucial to make a smooth transition in the public sphere but is this must be complemented by other positive changes. The economic logic behind the ‘carbon bubble’ discourse thus favours an active Divestment from fossil fuels.

A political theology of change

Professor Northcott’s presentation depicted the energy and climate change discourse occurring on different levels of political awareness and activism. Northcott’s  main theoretical claim is that national and international politics and modern political theory are ill suited to the global emergency that is humanly caused climate change. Those nations most responsible for causing it have become rich on the back of fossil fuel extraction and use while nations already suffering from human-influenced extreme weather have had few of the fruits of this great twentieth century economic bonanza. This inequality of gains from the fossil fuel industry is most evident in countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Syria and Mali, which are home to major sources of migrants to Europe in the wake of experiencing dramatic declines in crop productivity due to enduring drought and raised temperatures.

However, fossil fuel owning nations refuse to consider restraining fossil fuel extraction. Instead the UN framework convention on climate change process around climate change focuses on emissions, which Northcott likens to ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.’ With regard to Divestment at Durham, Northcott agrees that the movement rightly understands the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. On the other hand, the movement targets private multi-national corporations and investors as if they are the sovereigns of fossil fuels. The Professor’s presentation argued vehemently for the need to see the reality of politics of energy and climate change, which in reality is governed by nation states licensing fossil fuel extraction within their territories.

The theoretical point Northcott argues is worth noting with regard to the Divestment movement, namely that targeting fossil fuel stocks and companies as opposed to government licenses to extract fossil fuels colludes with a larger neoliberal tendency to downgrade sovereign power. Discourse on neoliberalism is used by nations like the UK to promote private capital and consumer decisions, which divert attention from the true essence of their sovereignty. As noted in A Political Theology of Climate Change, this misidentification can be traced back to the political theology of John Locke who identified the nation state’s core role to protect productive use of ‘nature’ by farmers, miners and others.

The neglect of the spatial aspect sovereignty is now endemic in national and international politics as Carl Schmitt first argued in his important book Nomos of the Earth. Climate change reveals again the wisdom of the ancients in linking sovereignty with territory by Previous identifying sovereignty of nation states with rule over a boundaried terrain. One must therefore exercise caution when naming and shaming multi-national corporations only because in a world where neoliberal development has become the status quo governments should be held accountable for private activity in the energy sector and not the other way around.

One month later

The most relevant points raised on the 28th April 2015 can be divided into three core discourses: the need to work with the fossil fuel industry (to use its technological expertise, its political influence on the international stage and its will to facilitate sustainable growth in the developing world) versus the need to cut our losses with the fossil fuel industry (to stop investing in an unviable economic project, to start investing in carbon neutral technologies) versus the need to address the real culprits of the great carbon emissions (i.e. nation states). All of these embody a ‘contested terrain’ in the public sphere.

As Professor Gluyas mentioned in reference to Durham as an historic contested terrain in its own right, the coal industry used to be taxed by the Prince Bishop whereas during the peak in coal combustion in 1991 over three hundred million tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted from the UK, which amounts to the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s total oil reserve. Combined with Professor Northcott’s political theology critique of the Divestment movement it seems that although there is a huge will to act on climate change it seems prudish not to assert that nation states are to blame for the current situation the developing world find themselves in.

Ethical considerations call for direct action against fossil fuel corporations that seem to sanction ‘Tar Sands,’ ‘BP blowouts’ or other scandals concerning the destruction of local environments and indigenous communities. With due respect to these controversial issues the Divestment movement is a worthy cause, indeed, but governments must also be held accountable. Moreover, Leaton and other experts in the financial, insurance and business sectors are right in calling for Divestment from the fossil fuel sectors in light of climate change reduction targets — though a huge portion of investment logic is influenced by government intervention.

In a world where capitalist growth and social welfare are depicted by governments as complementary policies the Divestment movement adds a sharper critique to nation state itself by calling for direct action from across a plethora of positions within the public sphere. So far these have included the academic sphere, faith sphere, financial and business sphere — and, as we will hopefully see by the end of the year at the COP21, the political sphere. Solutions vary according to contested understandings about the fossil fuel industry and its role in energy and climate change politics. However, what is certain is that climate change is a problem we need to solve together, which is why global Divestment movements are important in raising awareness of an alternative position to the existing status quo and applying pressure to intellectuals, policy-makers and investors in our collective future.

One month from now

In about one month Durham will host the Footprint Modulation, which comprises a bunch of exciting talks, performances, live film screenings and poetry readings organised local artists, transition activists and academics from Durham University. Academic discussions about forced migration due to climate change and the  effects of a steady increase in climate change follow a similar initiative called Ice and Climate, which was held this month in Newcastle as a collaborative project between the Life Centre and Durham University. This level of scientific engagement with the public  is essential to raise awareness of climate change using a wider platform of interactive forms. Similarly, Divestment at Durham as a social movement requires the same degree of curiosity to understand the likely repercussions of breaking financial ties between the public sphere and the fossil fuel industry, which equates to heeding the climate change problems we face across the world.

Being a poet and a scientist in the field of energy and climate politics I would argue that my own perspective on ‘social change’ remains steadfast within ‘discursive formations’ or ‘social structures’ that emerge from an understanding about problems different groups face. Thus Café Politique, Ice and Climate, and Footprint Modulation    projects have a great deal in common — they rope different subjective views together in order to harness the greater understanding of the problem that is atmospheric climate change. Sitting in our own ‘academic silos’ is not beneficial in the long run, the Academic Director of Kaleidoscope once told me at Ustinov College. And academic structures are no different to those existing in the public sphere at large, which is why calls for public engagement is vital to legitimise science, policy and decision-making with regard to investing in the fossil fuel industry.

The poem that I am writing and performing in one month explores one hundred years of fossil fuel use and its subsequent impact on the natural and social world. The syllabic structure mirror the growth in years and metaphorically reflects the carbon particles per million amassing polluting the atmosphere as the world ‘develops’ under the weight of its threatening need for growth. More importantly, my work features alongside other contributions from a rich multitude of artists, academics and leading public figures who want to connect the public sphere in a collective movement  to solve climate change. I am therefore very pleased to be among those who will be present in Durham throughout the Footprint Modulation project and encourage any future projects dedicated to raising awareness.

Why should Durham University divest? An in-depth explanation by Durham’s People and Planet Society

The science says so

According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if we are to remain within safe levels of global warming, we must limit the global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This means that 80% of known reserves must stay in the ground. Continued investment in fossil fuels therefore goes against scientific consensus on climate change.

The international community says so

The IPCC has been endorsed by all parties to the UN. Durham University’s investment in fossil fuels therefore lags behind international political consensus.

Durham is a top scientific institution which should be leading the way

Universities are supposed to be at the heart of learning and progress. Durham is no exception to this. We are a prestigious institution whose research puts us at the forefront of scientific discovery. Yet this is contradicted by our investment policy. We ought to be putting our knowledge into practice by funding existing renewable energies and the development of pioneering clean technologies. Instead we are invested in companies whose business plan leads inevitably to climate change.

Investment in fossil fuels is morally wrong

As a respected institution, Durham University has a moral duty to ban investments in fossil fuels. Firstly, we must think about the effects of climate change on our own futures and those of unborn generations. If the world exceeds its 2 degree limit, we are in danger of activating feedback loops which will send the climate out of our control and into chaos. More pressing, though, are the impacts that climate change is already having across the world. In recent years, climate change may have contributed to natural disasters in many countries, for example recurrent typhoons in the Philippines. Many countries in tropical areas have become extremely vulnerable due changing sea levels, with the island nation of Tuvalu set to be the first to go under water. Less developed countries are also suffering from decreased agricultural production and higher occurrences of drought that results from oil production. The greatest injustice of all this lies in the fact that it is the world’s poorest countries being most impacted. Not only are they the least able to adapt to the effects of climate change, they also bear the least responsibility for said effect. It is industrialised nations who have polluted the atmosphere and so we must now enact positive change to help those countries stricken by climate change.

Fossil fuel companies are morally bankrupt

It is also important to consider the moral bankruptcy of the fossil fuel companies that Durham University is invested in. Much as companies like Exxon, Mobil and Shell claim that their work helps to eradicate poverty, it tends to have negative impacts on development. The resource curse means that oil-rich nations rarely benefit from their associations with fossil fuel giants but instead suffer exploitation. For example, oil production by Shell in the Ogoniland area of the Niger-Delta has contaminated the drinking water of more than 10 communities, but Shell has failed to take effective action to restore the environment there. Durham University needs to implement an ethical investment policy which ends its association with corrupt corporations.

Investment in fossil fuels causes health risks

In a similar vein, by investing in fossil fuel companies Durham University encourages health risks caused by air pollution. The WHO estimates that 7 million deaths annually (one in eight of total global deaths) are as a result of air pollution exposure. In particular, this data reveals a stronger link between air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory disease. Divesting the university from fossil fuel companies would make an effort towards creating a healthier environment with cleaner air and less pollution. The university already has a policy which prevents investments in tobacco. It seems strange that we don’t therefore have a similar policy on fossil fuels, which also constitute a huge and recognised health risk.

Divestment makes economic sense

Investment in fossil fuels is becoming economically unfeasible. Though 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay below the ground, the value of fossil fuel companies is based on the assumption that these reserves will be consumed in their entirety. This leads to an overvaluation of their assets, resulting in a dangerous carbon bubble which will inevitably burst due to the global commitment to remain within the stated 2°C rise. Durham University’s investment in fossil fuels is therefore economically unsustainable.