King’s College: Don’t be a fossil FOOL! DIVEST NOW!

I am angry and determined. I’m a ‘snowflake’ and ‘naive.’ There is a lot to be proactive about right now and whilst we may not be able to do much about Trump the C***’s presidency, we are in one of the best cities in the world to stand up for what is right. But I’m going to try (TRY) and focus on one issue here. It’s an issue that as a student, paying £9000 a year or more, we ought to be speaking up about!

So I just googled (ecosia-ed, actually) King’s sustainability and environmental policies and… they do exist. King’s CLAIMS to recognise ‘it has a responsibility towards being sustainable and protecting the environment.’ Funnily enough, sustainability week starts very soon! Yet for some reason, King’s still invests into an industry which, as we should all be aware, is DESTROYING OUR PLANET! For 30 years, the university has been investing student fees into the oil and gas corporations. Freedom of Information request made in 2013 revealed that the university invested over £8 million in fossil fuel companies (including Shell, Exxon Mobil, Rio Tinto, Centrica, Petro China, and China Petroleum.)

Why? Why is one of the top universities in the UK, if not world, still turning a blind eye to the severity of the situation? Why is action not being taken as fast as possible?  Why are others still failing to follow in the footsteps of Glasgow and SOAS (University of London)? Now, many in the UK have announced divestment plans. However, King’s only agreed to ‘phased divestment’ several months ago and progress seems extremely slow despite a recent survey showing that 96% of King’s students, support divestment from ALL fossil fuels NOW. I suppose we shouldn’t be that surprised that these colonial institutions are more concerned with profit than ethical responsibilities. Hell, even governments are not prioritising such issues. But surely, with levels of pollution being at the highest and most dangerous level yet and with three-quarters of the arctic now melted… you would think (or at least I would think,) that such well-educated bright young minds would be eager to do what they can to encourage sustainability and put pressure on our university to meet its ethical responsibilities.

King’s College Climate Change Emergency is a group set up to achieve just this, and I was proud to attend today’s rally, calling for direct action, at the Strand campus. Whilst campaigners have tried a variety of conventional channels over the years, such as peaceful protests, King’s are still failing to act fast despite the importance of such action for the planet, students and the reputation of the institution. Some activists sprayed removable statements such as ‘Divest now’ on walls of the uni in washable, tried-and-tested chalk-based paint. Foreseeably, some students disagree with this action despite the protesters turning up with an enormous bag of cleaning products. They also happily began to wash the walls and were stopped by King’s staff.

Now, I can try to understand the frustration of some. I attended SOAS, one of the most politically active universities in the UK (and the first in London to announce plans to fully divest from fossil fuels in April 2015.) There, students are vocal and active about causes they are passionate about, usually whether they see themselves as being directly affected or not. Sometimes, some students do take things too far when engaging in serious vandalism and disruption of other students and their work. However, this was rare and ultimately it was a blessing to be surrounded by active, compassionate individuals who dared to act to make the world a better place. Generally, the student body are willing to take whatever non-violent direct action necessary to ensure the institution lives up to its promises and responsibilities. Here is a snippet of the 2015 statement: ‘In June 2014, SOAS agreed to freeze all new investments in fossil fuels, while the question of divestment was investigated. Oil and gas equities currently stand at £1.5 million. In order to implement the divestment plan, an ethical investment criterion will be added to SOAS’ Ethical Investment Policy and the School’s Gift Acceptance Form and due diligence procedure for philanthropic gifts will be amended. The School will also continue to comprehensively collect data across SOAS to establish its carbon footprint.’ Professor Paul Webley, Director of SOAS at the time, said: “SOAS is proud to become the first university in London to divest and we hope more universities will follow suit. Divestment from fossil fuels will enable SOAS to fulfil its responsibilities as an ethical investor, while continuing to ensure that the School’s investments deliver a financial return. This is in line with SOAS’ commitment to environmental sustainability and an important part of the transition towards renewable energy, which SOAS takes very seriously as an institution. As the harmful social and environmental impacts of climate change becoming increasingly clear, these initiatives ensure that SOAS is doing all it can to show leadership on this issue.”

For environmentally-aware students across the globe who do not believe that climate change is all one big ‘hoax’… PLEASE do what you can to encourage your university to divest. The issue is an urgent one. With Brexit, Trump, and climate chaos, the peaceful prosperous future we all want is seriously threatened. We need to start fighting NOW! We may disagree about how to best achieve this goal, but let’s focus on being proactive and showing these institutions that we will not allow them to act like corporate monsters if we can help it. These are our institutions, and we should be able to be proud of studying at them.