After brief, personal introductions from the People and Planet members and a summary of the campaign so far, the Vice Chancellor expressed his appreciation that the society is supporting this global divestment movement. He also voiced his concern about the use of energy in today's society, and the necessity for a move towards a new ‘energy mix’.
Professor Burnett restated that the final decision to stop the University investing in fossil fuel companies is not solely his to make, and emphasised the need for him to listen to all the communities within the University, including those members of staff who might feel divestment would impact negatively on their position within the institution. In order to facilitate this, a debate organised by Richard Jones has been suggested by the Vice Chancellor, aimed at encouraging discussion from all communities within the University environment.
Regarding the practicalities of the University’s investments, it seemed clear to all members of the discussion that creating a fossil free fund for the University to use would not be terribly difficult. The finance committee - who will ultimately be charged with the decision of divestment - are all too aware of this. People and Planet have now begun focusing on starting a dialogue with potentially opposed staff members. The potential for damage to research projects connected with petrochemical companies was also speculated, however after considering Glasgow University's confident statement reassuring their researchers, it arguably became redundant. Of course, comparing the divestment effects in Glasgow can only suggest that the University of Sheffield will share a similar experience, but the presence of research projects that Shell still share at Glasgow advise that this is a sensible assumption. Hopefully this is a matter that could be discussed and resolved in the upcoming debate.
Alongside the climate change arguments for divestment, the moral and ethical aspects of the fossil fuel companies were discussed. The despicable behaviour of some companies, with the support of governments was briefly mentioned as an obvious reason not to be supporting this industry, although Professor Burnett was careful to consider the opinions of those students and staff who may seek a career in fossil fuel companies. While supportive in principle, as Vice Chancellor of the University he was resolute in taking into account the views of all members of the University.
As the meeting came to a close, it was proposed that People and Planet strive to gain more feedback from a wider range of audiences, within the University, and externally. A public statement of support was asked of the Vice Chancellor, which he rejected on the grounds of his official positions. However, Sir Keith did offer to contact Jeremy Grantham, and Lord Stern about the case for divestment from fossil fuels at the University of Sheffield, both of whom would have valuable opinions, and both of whom it would be hard for People and Planet to communicate with otherwise. All in all the meeting was progressive for the divestment campaign, and we look forward to taking the discussed actions forward! Alongside these developments, People and Planet will be continuing actions around the University and city centre until we have reached our target of getting the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Get in touch with us if you’d like to join in at firstname.lastname@example.org.