Cambridge University students and scholars occupy the BP institute
Cambridge University students and academics occupied the university’s BP Institute on Tuesday to demand that university leaders end research partnerships with fossil fuel companies.
The group of about 40 people, including three academics, planned to occupy the building for 63 minutes, one for each year because, according to them, the oil companies were first alerted to the environmental dangers posed by their business model by scientists.
The students staged a theatrical performance in which figures representing BP and Shell “bought the silence of university officials”, before proceeding to “silence students who have tried to challenge BP over its environmental record”.
At the same time, ten Oxford University students protested outside Said Business School which received £1.3million from Italian oil giant Eni in 2020-21, according to a report speak Oxford Student-Led Climate Justice Campaign.
The simultaneous actions were organized by Fossil Fuel Research, a campaign to end the influence of fossil fuel money on climate change-related research at universities, in collaboration with students from the two elite institutions .
In December openDemocracy flagged that the universities of Cambridge and Oxford had received millions of pounds in funding from the oil giants. The website filed a freedom of information request asking universities to reveal details of any funding they had received since 2017 from eight of the biggest energy companies: BP, Shell, Total, Equinor, Eni, Chevron , Exxon or Conoco Phillips.
Of those who provided details, Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London received by far the most, according to openDemocracy. Cambridge University said it accepted some £14m, Oxford University around £8m and Imperial College London some £54m, he said. The Independent has not independently verified this report.
The University of Cambridge told openDemocracy at the time that, since October 2020, it only accepted funding from oil companies if it was sure the collaboration would help the UK “transition to low-carbon energy” and that donors do not direct the research they fund.
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford told the website that it “maintains the independence” of its work, with funding “often directed directly towards research into climate and renewable energy issues”. .
However, Fossil Free Research argues that accepting climate research funding helps bolster fossil fuel companies’ claims that they are committed to science-led climate action.
Jason Scott-Warren, professor of modern literature and culture at the University of Cambridge, said he was taking part in the sit-in on Tuesday because he felt it was “increasingly inappropriate” for the institution to take money from fossil fuel companies given clear guidelines from the United Nations and the International Energy Agency that there can be no new exploration or production of fossil fuels if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
Having worked with fragile historical materials in archives, Professor Scott-Warren said he was aware of the fragility of human culture and how this extends to everything around us.
“I guess working on imaginative literature maybe I have the kind of imagination that can look into the future and see where things are going,” he said.
He said he hoped the students’ efforts would be successful, pointing to the success of a similar campaign that saw Cambridge divest from fossil fuel investments in 2020.
“I’m pretty optimistic the university has tightened its guidelines on the acceptability of fossil fuel donations in recent years and it’s really just a natural step to say that in fact a lot of these donations are not more acceptable,” he said. .
Sam Gee, a first-year natural science student who also participated in the sit-in on Tuesday, said he was frustrated that while Cambridge had agreed to sell of all the fossil fuel investments, he always accepted big money and partnerships with oil giants.
He pointed to the fact that the University of Cambridge still has a BP Institute and one Professor endowed by Shell in chemical engineering. By doing so, the university lends its brand legitimacy to companies that increase oil production, which will have “unacceptable consequences for people,” he said.
Mr Gee, 19, also said accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry for research aimed at tackling the climate crisis undermines the academic integrity of that research. There are many studies that show that industry-funded research can yield results favorable to industry interests, he said.
“These are rich universities, they can fund this in other ways,” he said. “If you think of all the possible sources of funding for climate and environmental research, fossil fuel companies are about the worst source of funding you can imagine.”
The story is similar to the University of Oxford where the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies is supported by several energy companies, including Eni, Shell and Total, according to its website.
In March, Fossil Fuel Research released an open letter calling on US and UK universities to ban fossil fuel industry funding for research on climate change, the environment and energy policy. The letter which has been signed by hundreds of leading academics says there are parallels between accepting fossil fuel industry funding for climate change research and accepting government funding. tobacco industry for public health research.
“Already, many public health and research institutes reject tobacco money because of the industry’s vast track record spread misinformation around the consequences of its products on public health”, open letter said.
The Independent contacted the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, as well as BP, Shell and Eni for comment.