‘Cambridge Loose on Climate Change’ – A response

After recently reading the Tab article ‘Cambridge Loose on climate change’ which slams the University for having investments in BP, Shell and Rio Tinto, –http://cambridge.tab.co.uk/2013/11/04/cambridge-loose-on-climate-change/  – I was left feeling slightly annoyed. I’m not quite sure why, but it’s the same annoyance I feel when I hear people bash bankers and blame them for everyone wrong in society – usually on Question Time.

Furthermore I was annoyed by the assertion that Cambridge departments such as Geology, by having a working relationship with an oil company, are contradictory to their teaching on climate change. I spent two years in the Geology department, and benefited hugely from the sponsorship of BP, which heavily subsidized field trips and equipment.  Naturally British oil companies should want to attract the most qualified graduates in their field. Someone has to sit down and go through hours and hours of seismic reflection profiles to identify potential oil sites. If no one did then we wouldn’t be able to run our cars, or waste time reading this. Moreover, the relationship between department and BP certainly has no bearing on the content of the course. Some of the world leaders in climate change research are based in the department, and what we learn comes directly from their mouths.

I also spent a bit of time this summer interning at a well-regarded investment firm, and got to know a bit about how they construct portfolios for their clients – some of whom could easily be Cambridge colleges. Low risk, long term portfolios that pay consistent dividends almost always include BP and Shell. This is simply because they are huge well established companies that offer a product that will always be in demand; by everyone.

However, whilst interning at this Investment firm I also learnt a little about their ethical investment branch. This is where clients with specific ethical or environmental views can invest their money safe in the confidence that it won’t be used to fund sectors that they have blacklisted. Interestingly, despite the restrictions, the ethical investment team could produce performance results that matched ‘non ethical’ portfolios.  Green investment therefore, shouldn’t come at a price.

Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, our economy and that of the entire world is utterly dependent on fossil fuels. No realistic environmentalist can truly believe that giving oil companies the cold shoulder would solve the world’s problems. In fact the main concern for the environmentalist should be in shifting the dependence for energy from coal to ‘cleaner’ fossil fuels such as gas and oil – or further to a largely nuclear economy, but that’s a different argument all together. Obviously renewables would be the best scenario, but they simply can’t produce enough to match our current demand.

I am not trying to defend some appalling practices – such as the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill – for which ultimately these organisations are responsible for. But the point I do want to make is that given we are still dependent on these companies; we must work with them to develop cleaner energy solutions and better environmental practices, than against them.

Lastly, I do in fact agree with the Tab article that the University should move its investments away from oil and mining companies; to make a statement if nothing else. However I still feel annoyed about a journalism style that demonizes organisations and the people working for them, especially given that it is US the consumer that ultimately forces them to drill deeper.

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About theNatSci

Cambridge Natural Scientist.
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