Divesting from fossil fuels – part of a low carbon culture for #Manchester

We need a low carbon culture (and we need you to help define it first).

And part of a low carbon culture is going to be divesting from fossil fuel companies.  The University of Manchester, which hopes to have global weight, could – if it chose – lead by example (and follow the example of Glasgow, Stanford etc).  There’s a campaign group trying to get them to do just that.

Divestment at the University of Manchester: why are we doing this?

Definition: “DIVESTMENT” is the reduction of some kind of asset for financial, ethical, or political objectives.

Climate change – the scientific context

Climate change, caused by emissions of greenhouse gases from burning oil, gas and coal, threatens the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world. Climate change directly causes the deaths of over 400,000 people every year, with 98% of these deaths in developing countries [1]. Extreme weather events — the floods, droughts, hurricanes, melting icecaps and wildfires we’ve seen in recent years — are increasing in frequency, duration, size and intensity as we heat up our planet [2]. Estimates vary but suggest that by the end of the century global temperatures will have increased by 4-6°C, making large swathes of the planet uninhabitable and triggering mass migration as people fight for declining resources [3]. Clearly climate change is no longer a future threat, it’s a clear and present danger: we’re calling for widespread divestment from the fossil fuel industry in order to prevent this from happening, to send a message for change.

Greenwashing by fossil fuel companies

Shell’s human rights and environmental abuses are well documented. In the Niger Delta, it is estimated that the company burns excess gas from oil wells (a process known as “gas flaring”) with a volume of 2.5 billion cubic feet, equivalent to 40% of all Africa’s natural gas consumption in 2001, every day [4]. Every single day. The toxins released in this process adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of communities in the NIger Delta, leading to increased risk of premature deaths, child respiratory illnesses, asthma and cancer [4]. Companies such as Shell show blatant disregard for people and the environment in their industrial practices, whilst simultaneously bombarding people with messaging to suggest their organisation has environmental and social credibility. This “greenwash” overstates a company’s eco-credentials manipulating the public into having a more positive attitude toward them, which further encourages inaction and disengages people from the issue. A recent advert said “Tackling climate change and providing fuel for a growing population seems like an impossible problem, but at Shell we try to think creatively”, alongside a diagram of a human brain, divided into sections labelled “fuel from algae”, “fuel from straw”, “fuel from woodchips”, “hydrogen fuels”, “wind farm”, “gas to liquids” and “coal gasification”, deliberately diverting attention from the vast majority of Shell’s business in normal fossil fuel production, with only one token Shell wind farm currently in operation [5]. Relationships with companies like these are immoral and only serve to maintain the social licence which these companies require to operate unimpeded from scrutiny.

A danger to democracy

All the while, fossil fuel companies continue to lobby for watered-down regulation, deception and inaction on the climate change issue, much as the tobacco industry did when the adverse health effects of smoking became apparent [6]. According to an Oxfam report last week the fossil fuel industry spent $213 million lobbying US and EU decision makers last year whilst governments globally continue to prop up this tired industry with $1.9 trillion in subsidies [3]. “Climate denying” think tanks exist to further spread confusion funded by the fossil fuel industry and hedge funds which have a serious financial interest in the continued exploitation of fossil fuels. Billionaire oil tycoons the Koch Brothers (who own an oil company which is the second largest private company in America) have spent $67 million on hundreds of climate-denying front groups and think tanks that exist to create the perception of debate on the issue in the public sphere while expert climate scientists are unified in their call for more action to prevent disaster [7]. Perhaps the most prominent such think tank in the UK is the Global Warming Policy Foundation set up to combat the “extremely damaging and harmful policies” of the government in tackling climate change[8], a group which leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen describes as “one link in a devious manipulation of public opinion [regarding climate change]” [9].

The carbon bubble – a risky investment

We now know that at least two-thirds of fossil fuel companies’ known reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets, such as avoiding the threshold of 2°C for “dangerous” climate change – yet they continue to investigate new energy-intensive and uneconomic sources such as Arctic fuel and fracking. Experts warn this ‘carbon bubble’ could lead to stranded assets worth trillions and plunge the world into another financial crisis if left unaddressed [10]. The University of Manchester in 2012 had over 1.7 million shares in fossil fuel companies including 738,166 in BP PLC alone [11]. Between June and October this year BP’s shares have fallen by more than 18% [12]. To give you an idea, if the University still has around 700,000 shares in BP then the University endowment has lost over £650,000 in value in the last three months, equivalent to 73 students’ tuition fees gone. These are incredibly volatile investments and it is fundamentally irresponsible for the University to invest in BP and other fossil fuel companies for economic reasons.

What can we do?

So these companies are profiting from inaction on climate change, poisoning the planet and local communities to protect their profits, manipulating governments and democracy in order to maintain the completely unsustainable status quo and are also a really volatile investment. Seems like a pretty bad idea giving these people our money, so what are we going to do to stop this?

Around the UK through endowments and other investment higher education institutions have £5.2 billion tied up in the fossil fuel industry [13]. Targeting this and other ties with the industry is a great way to remove the power and influence that fossil fuel companies have in society. There are strong and pervasive links between The University of Manchester and the fossil fuel industry, all designed to legitimise their activity.

For example, in 2012 BP announced it was opening a £64 million research centre at The University of Manchester to “help its search for oil into deeper and more challenging environments”; despite existing reserves being more than enough to destroy the planet [14]. Manchester’s website says “BP’s alliance with The University of Manchester … enables BP to access the University’s world-class executive education, high-quality research facilities and its undergraduate talent pool” [15] and it has trained 600 BP staff at Manchester’s “BP Projects and Engineering College” [16]. For anyone who has ever been to one of our Careers fairs and seen their stand or looked on any notice board in our Engineering & Physical Science faculty and seen their ever-present graduate recruitment posters, the institutional ties with BP are clear. The University of Manchester also has BP’s chief scientist on its Board of Governors, the group which will have the final say over whether to divest or not [17]. Well played BP.

Shell and BP both sponsored Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences postgraduate conference in 2012. Just £1000 from Shell and £500 from BP [18] ensured that every participant of the conference got a BP-branded goody bag with a Shell-branded screwdriver inside along with other conference merchandise.

With an endowment value of £154 million [19] (the UK’s 4th largest), despite Manchester having an ethical investment policy, according to the 2013 Green League it has not taken any divestment actions in line with this policy [20]. This policy specifically states that  “the University […] will use its influence in an effort to reduce and, ideally, eliminate, irresponsible corporate behaviour leading to … environmental degradation and human rights violations” [21].


We are campaigning for the University to uphold this policy and pledge to:

  1. Move UoM’s money

- immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies

- screen for and exclude the fossil fuel industry from the UoM investment portfolio

- divest from the fossil fuel industry and shift funds to lower risk, ethical investments within 5 years

  1. Stop the greenwash

- publish full details of the UoM’s financial and other ties to the fossil fuel industry

- stop giving out honorary degrees to fossil fuel industry CEOs

- stop accepting sponsorship and advertising from fossil fuel companies

  1. Support a clean energy future for all

- provide students with ethical careers advice and opportunities

- refocus research & expertise on climate solutions and phase out climate-damaging fossil fuel research

- demand more research funding for renewables from fossil fuel companies and government


We are calling for immediate action to reduce links with the industry and an end to further research contracts once existing agreements are finished. We’re not calling for anything radical, just for the necessary transition away from fossil fuels to begin as soon as possible. It’s time for The University of Manchester to realise how incompatible fossil fuel investments are with a safe and sustainable future for the planet, it’s time to take meaningful action and to go Fossil Free. We will be using this blog and our Facebook page to update you on the campaign as it happens, we’ve got plenty in the pipeline… (b’dum tsch). If you’re already convinced it’s time for them to divest then sign our petition below.

Petition: bit.ly/fossilfreemcr

Page: facebook.com/fossilfreemcr

[1] Dara International, “Climate Vulnerability Monitor”, 2012.


[2] Friends of the Earth, “Extreme weather events & climate change”, September 2013.


[3] Oxfam, “Food, fossils and filthy finance”, 17 October 2014.


[4] Friends of the Earth, “Gas Flaring in Nigeria: a human rights, environmental and economic monstrosity”, June 2005.


[5] George Monbiot, “Shell’s game: why good people do bad things”, 6th January 2009.


[6] Global Policy website, “Global warming & the energy corporations”, 12th July 1996.


[7] Greenpeace USA, “Koch Industries: secretly funding the climate denial machine”.


[8] BBC News, “Ed Miliband clashes with Lord Lawson on global warming”, 6th December 2009.


[9] The Guardian, “Michael Hintze revealed as funder of Lord Lawson’s climate thinktank”, 27th March 2012.


[10] The Guardian, “Climate bubble will plunge the world into another financial crisis”, 19th April 2013.


[11] The Mancunion, “Greens deputy leader calls University’s investment in ‘big oil’ “completely irresponsible”.“ 5th March 2012.


[12] BP share charts, calculation made between 24th June and 17th October 2014.


[13] People & Planet, “Knowledge and power: fossil fuel universities”, October 2013.


[14] The Daily Telegraph, “BP Invests in UK research to help it drill deeper”, 7th August 2012.


[15] The University of Manchester, “Manchester Energy Global Partnerships” website.


[16] The University of Manchester, “Business Engagement Case Study: BP”.


[17] Dr Angela Strank, Board of Governors, University of Manchester website.


[18] Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Conference Fund 2012 Final Review Report.


[19] The University of Manchester, ‘Financial Statements for Year Ended 31 July 2011’.


[20] People & Planet, ‘Green League 2013’ website.


[21] The University of Manchester, ‘Policy for Socially Responsible Investment’


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Professor Kevin Anderson on climate change, the Paris meeting etc (video interview)

We need a low carbon culture (and we need you to help define it first).

And part of a low carbon culture is going to be paying attention to the science – the amount of carbon dioxide we have been emitting (versus how much we said we would.) We have an actual world expert on this (and that’s not the normal Manchester boosterism, that’s a fact).

And what’s more, Professor Kevin Anderson (for it is he), is taking a sabbatical to try to have more influence on the upcoming Paris Climate Talks (November 2015).

Here’s the first part of an extensive interview, which also covered the “two degrees target” (see his recent open letter), veganism, gender and much else. Those videos will be posted over the coming days…

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Why we ignore movement-building. No, CLIMATE CHANGE, why we ignore CLIMATE change….

Jonathan Atkinson reports.

marshall bookMon 27 October 2014 at Blackwell’s Bookshop, The Precinct Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester Part of Manchester Science Festival

We’ve all been there. An engaging dinner party, a warm family event. Conversation ranges from what you’re driving these days to the fortunes of Spurs Utd football team. Inevitably the topic turns to summer holidays, “We’re going to Bali, an amazingly cheap flight, what a bargain, you should too!”

You face the choice: a shrug, a smile, a fudged ‘not this year’. But no, you say it: “I haven’t flown for 14 years for environmental reasons and as a result I am not going to Bali this year.”

So, what’s the response? An engaging debate on the pros and cons of flying? Discussion on the inevitable sacrifices of climate change. A counter argument on the validity of climate science?

Nope, more often that not you get silence, awkward looks and the inevitable change of subject, ‘lovely quiche we’re eating’. As a society we do not talk comfortably about climate change, in fact we do not talk at all about climate change.

Which is where George Marshall’s new book comes in, ‘Why We Ignore Climate Change‘. During an engaging hour long talk as part of the Manchester Science Festival, George takes us on a roller coaster tour. Interdisciplinary, George’s subject matter ranges from cognitive psychology to marketing theory to politics to brain science and everything in between.

His talk covers many aspects of his new book, starting with some of the traditional theories around our uncomfortableness: uncertainty, impacts distant from the present day, the lack of an identifiable and defeatable ‘enemy’.

He contends the problem now is not around acceptance of the science or appreciation of the facts. When prompted most people readily agree that climate change is one of the greatest threats we face. But, unprompted in focus groups, climate change very rarely appears high on our list of fears and worries.

It’s not that we don’t know the facts, it’s that for many, climate change does not register as a part of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, not a part of our personal narrative or the things we discuss with others.

Ultimately, George concludes that much of this dissonance relates to our contrasting brain areas, facts, figures and logic on the one hand, emotions, stories and habits on the other. Whilst facts and figures influence our opinions, emotions and narratives dictate behaviour, what we actually do.

The talk is peppered with anecdotes drawn from the book, the most compelling gathered from a research tour of the United States. He meets Tea Party advocates who have found engaging and passionate narratives to tell around climate change – albeit from a denier perspective – but at least they are talking about it!

He meets the mayor of a town on the front line, battered and destroyed by the effects of climate change but unwilling to engage in debate on a ‘negative and pessimistic’ issue.

An evangelical Christian experiences an ‘epiphany’ around climate change talks in terms of ‘bearing witness’, and forgiveness.

Much of George’s current work centres on right wing politics and creating new climate change narratives. “Doesn’t this challenge their commitment to neo-liberalism?” asks one questioner, “Exactly” counters George, in doing so the possibility of change is created. For him the politics of left and right should be alive to the challenges and opportunities of climate change, an issue of jobs, poverty and justice for the left, individual liberties, property rights and the preservation of the landscape for the right. Instead the ‘party politics’ of climate change in the UK is limited to technocratic arguments on emission reductions and grid balancing.

The talk was followed by a short discussion session before attendees decamped to the pub for more debate.

The thing that struck me was that as climate change activists we urgently need to find new ways to talk about climate change. With friends and family in ways that involve and engage rather induce guilt and exclude, with political opponents in ways that offer common terms for debate and establish common, shared values across left and right. George rightly points out that rationing was only possible when left and right accepted its need.

As activists we need to move on from the tactics of information and awareness raising – most people understand and accept climate change – and on to an understanding of the emotional impact this knowledge creates.

In doing this an appreciation of cultural production is essential, unless the ideas and concepts around climate change and taking action on climate change become incorporated in to a wider cultural discourse the issue will continue to be something we simply do not talk about.

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“What IS a low carbon culture?” – what should the report look like

pesTnov2014whatislandscapeThe People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team is throwing together another report.
Who is in this team? Er, you and your friends, and friends you’ve not yet met.
As long as you’re someone who thinks climate change is a real (big) problem, and wants to see Manchester getting ready, then you can get your thinking cap on…

We’ve mapped out a structure for the report below. What’s missing? What’s not needed? What answers/thoughts do you have for any of the sections? Email environmentalscrutiny@gmail.com…

Structure for the 12 Page Report

Illustration (Marc Roberts)
-Contents / Executive Summary 1 page
-Why is this needed (1 para 2 max) – (We are halfway through the 10 year period of the Climate Change Action Plan)
(-//Separate very brief section on “what is climate change”)
-What is a culture?
– Is low carbon enough – how low can you go, do you need to go – (quantifying)
Hannah Knox’s Interview from MCFly
– How do you measure culture?
– Why hasn’t low carbon been defined?1) Contradicts economic growth2) Airport 3) Difficult to measure, which makes bureaucrats/politicians nervous 4) fear of accusation of “nanny state”/”social engineering”

People’s Responses to the question “what is a low carbon culture and how do we get it” (middle two pages)
What is to be done?
– If we want a low carbon culture, what does a) the council need to do b) environmentalists c) academics (SMART goals)
– in the next 6-12 months- In the next 1-2 years
– References
– Invite to the meeting on Mon 17th November at Friends Meeting House

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Upcoming “Policy Week” events – of trade deals and arsenic

Both as part of University of Manchester’s* Policy Week
Manchester Policy Week: The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership: Cash Bonanza or Risky Deal?
on Tuesday, 4 November 2014 from 19:00 to 21:00

Manchester Policy Week: Poisoning the world’s poor: how can we reduce their exposure to arsenic in water & food?
on Friday 7th, 10 to 11.30

* Declaration: I am now a student at U of M.  I don’ think it’s affecting my assessment of news-worthiness, but then every meat-puppet genuinely believes their strings are not being pulled!

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Making Food Fair – Exploring solutions to the many faces of food poverty

Making_Food_Fair_webSaturday 22nd  November

Federation House, Manchester

The increasing use of Foodbanks has made headline news, but our food system perpetuates other kinds of poverty as well.

While families struggle to feed themselves, farming and the food sector are reliant on poverty wages, poor conditions and precarious employment.

Join us as we explore a food system that is letting down so many and ask, “how can we make food fair for everyone”?

Inspiring presentations and discussion on sustainable solutions to food poverty.

With speakers from Sustain’s London Food Poverty Pilot, Nourish Scotland, Church Action on Poverty and the Principal Investigator of the ERC study “Families and Food Poverty in an Age of Austerity”.

Plus, a chance to feed local ideas and solutions into the national Commission on Food and Poverty, led by the Fabian Society.

This event is organised by The Kindling Trust and Feeding Manchester and is the 16th in an ongoing series of gatherings working to create a fair and sustainable food system for Greater Manchester.

Cost – £10, including lunch. Booking essential.

For full details and to register for the event click here.

Confirmed speakers and topics include:

Rebecca O’Connell, University of London. Principal Investigator of the study “Families and Food Poverty in an Age of Austerity” – An Unfair Food System – an overview of our food system and why it lets down so many families.

Pete Richie, Executive Director, Nourish Scotland – If the farmer is poor, so is the whole country – the politics and economics of land, food and farming.

Ben Reynolds, Deputy Co-ordinator, Sustain and Sustainable Food Cities – Tackling Food Poverty together – Lessons from London’s food access campaign.

Niall Cooper, Director, Church Action on Poverty – Tackling Poverty Head On – practical approaches to confronting poverty in all its forms.

Debs Clarke
On behalf of The Kindling Trust.

Office Number: 0161 226 2242
Mobile: 07843 281266

Email: debs@kindling.org.uk
Website: www.kindling.org.uk
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/kindlingtrust
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kindlingtrust
Photo Gallery: https://picasaweb.google.com/KindlingTrust

Why not become a Founding Supporter of The Kindling Trust? In 2014 we are looking for 100 people to support our crucial work. To find out more and donate online please visit: www.kindling.org.uk/donate

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Democracy in Manchester – the grubby grubby reality

There is a “Manchester Leadership Forum”. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? But you can’t go to it, and when it runs workshops about creating a new “community strategy” those workshops are a) very poorly attended, and b) there are no minutes.

Oh, and how many members of the Leadership Forum got on it without having been ‘tapped on the shoulder’ by the Town Hall? Er, not a single one.

This is Manchester; we do things “differently” here.

Manchester City Council has six scrutiny committees. The meetings of those six committees are open to the public, and minuted (1). At the last Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting a couple of councillors wanted to know more about this new “Manchester Leadership Forum.”

One of the members of the public who attended that meeting submitted a Freedom of Information Act request (2).  Her requests are in bold, what she got back is in italics

I attended Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee today and was interested in the Manchester Leaders Forum. I looked on the Manchester City Council website and found a link to the members. However, the terms of reference page was “empty”


a) Could you please send me an electronic copy of the terms of reference (and perhaps ensure that a copy also goes on the Manchester partnership website)

The terms of reference for the Manchester Leaders Forum are available on the Manchester Partnership website at the following link:


This link has been tested as working on Thursday 2 October 2014. Please accept my apologies that at the time you tried to access the terms of reference the link had broken and the attachment was unavailable. I am also attaching an electronic copy of the terms of reference with this letter.

b) Could you please supply a copy of the invite list for the workshop on Monday 22nd September

All members of the Manchester Leaders Forum were invited to attend the Manchester Strategy discussion session on Monday 22 September. In addition to the Leaders Forum members, a small number of additional invitations were extended to external speakers and partners.

c) Could you please provide, when available, a copy of the minutes of the meeting of Monday 22nd September, which – presumably – will include a list of those who attended, those who sent their apologies, and those who neither attended or sent apologies

The Manchester Strategy discussion session on Monday 22 September was the first of three sessions for Manchester Leaders Forum members to discuss the emerging themes of the Manchester Strategy, which will replace the Community Strategy in 2015. The outcomes of the session will inform the design of the strategy, but as it was not a formal meeting there are no formal minutes. It was also not compulsory for all Leaders Forum members to attend this session. Members have been invited to attend as many of the Manchester Strategy discussion sessions as they are able to and have a particular interest in.

As this was a discussion session arranged on a workshop format there are no formal minutes of the meeting. I have however provided a list below of those members of the Manchester Leaders Forum members who attended, sent apologies, and who neither attended or sent apologies:

Attended: Ann Clynch, Gavin Elliot, Ruairidh Jackson, Phil Korbel, Yasmina Lee, Dean of Manchester, Cllr Bernard Priest, Elaine Unegbu, Mike Wild, Sue Woodward.

Apologies sent: Maria Balshaw, Sir Howard Bernstein, John Brooks, Atiha Chaudry, Lou Cordwell, Mike Deegan, Andrew Fender, Lorraine Gradwell, Sir Richard Leese, Mike Livingstone, Tony Lloyd, Paul Martin, John McNerney, Clive Memmott, Michelle Moran, Cllr Sue Murphy, Charlie Norman, Chris Oglesby, Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell, Phil Royle, Michelle Saidi, Michele Scattergood, Bill Tamkin, John Thornhill, Martin Whiting, Nigel Wilson

Neither attended nor sent apologies: Nick Adderley, Mike Blackburn, Rod Coombs, Scott Fletcher, Mike Ingall, Priscilla Nkwenti

[Given how poor attendance was, perhaps someone would like to follow-up with a question about precisely when the invites were sent out?  There is a nasty habit of giving people about a week's notice for these sorts of meetings...]

d) Finally, could you let me know how many nominations were received for membership of the Forum, and the date nominations closed.

Nominations for the Manchester Leaders Forum were received from all of the partnership boards invited to nominate. Details of the partnerships invited to nominate by sector are available within the report ‘Item 6 – Manchester Partnership – Review of the Manchester Board’ to the Council’s Executive on 18 December 2014. This report is available to download at: http://www.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2039/executive

This link has been tested as working on Thursday 2 October 2014. The closing date for nominations was 31 March 2014.

In addition to these nominations there was also an open invitation for applications to join the Manchester Leaders Forum, advertised on the Manchester Partnership website between Monday 17 March and Monday 7 April 2014. No applications for membership were received through this route.

So, they put up a blog post for three weeks. They appear to have done precisely no further advertising of the fact that people from outside the charmed circle could get on the Forum. This is Manchester, we do things “differently” here.

Monday 17th November will mark 5 years since the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan became official council policy.  It will mark the half way point to the 2020 goals.  There is a meeting of the People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team, at which we will be mingling, skill-sharing and discussing “what is a low carbon culture”.

The meeting is free, you don’t need to book.  Just bring yourself, your ideas and enthusiasm, and any friends you think will be interested. 7pm at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St. The offer extends to councillors who actually care about climate change (which includes many, but not all of them).


(1) With all the usual caveats about how accurately those minutes reflect what was said/agreed. The meetings are not yet filmed, though Birmingham City Council has no problem in filming all of ITS meetings.

(2) That’s free to do, and all you do is write to informationcompliance@manchester.gov.uk with your questions [keep them specific!], including your name and address and saying at the bottom ‘please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000).

Posted in Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council | Leave a comment