There are three main points which we want to counter here. Firstly, Keith says:
"There will also be a continued need, for the foreseeable future, to reduce the climate impact of continued fossil fuel use and we are working to support this need through our pilot scale carbon capture and storage research facility."
We know already, from our own research into Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), that this technology will not be widely available soon enough. We know from Duncan Clarke's research into energy trends that making fossil fuels more efficient, and investing in cleaner energy sources, is not enough on its own to curb our carbon emissions. We must simultaneously tackle the influence that the fossil fuel industry has on our society.
Secondly, Keith seems to be worried that divestment could "divert our efforts from our research and teaching in these areas, where we believe we can make the most significant contribution to reducing the use of fossil fuels over the medium/longer term."
This sentence suggests that the University already has some high value research collaborations and projects with exactly the kind of dirty, immoral, and socially unacceptable companies that we're requesting it divests from. This of course is another battle entirely, but it's important to note that most research funding is procured by individual academics or groups within the University, and not by the University itself. A decision to divest is unlikely to jeopardise these connections (though ultimately we would like the University to think long and hard about whether such connections are acceptable).
On a day to day basis, we know that simultaneous divestment from fossil fuels and progressive research into a sustainable future isn't just possible, it's necessary. Attempts to bring about a better world built on greener technologies are counteracted by investments in the opposing industry - that of fossil fuels. Divestment would not divert these efforts, it would amplify them and give them encouragement.
Thirdly, the letter estimates that only around 2% of the University's investments (<£1m) are held in fossil fuel companies. We know this to be untrue. Our own calculations put the number closer to 10%, with approximately £3m invested in the industry.
Finally, Keith dedicates an entire paragraph to the notion that supporting the fossil fuel industry by buying their product (to heat and power our campus), negates any potential benefits of divesting. We've already debunked that argument.
We hope that the University follows up on Keith's promise to develop an over-arching position statement on tackling climate change. We hope that divestment, green energy research, and strong carbon reduction targets will all form part of this statement. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly support the call for the University to adopt stringent carbon reduction targets that are dictated by climate science, rather than arbitrary goals defined by the government.
We intend to write back to the Vice Chancellor shortly, explaining these points and requesting a meeting. We'll also be stepping up our game to morally shame the University, as it continues to fund environmental and climate catastrophe.