On Tuesday political commentator George Monbiot mentioned the University of Manchester in an article about fossil fuel companies sponsoring energy research at Universities. He wrote out that “in 1998, the vice-chancellors of the UK’s universities decided that they would no longer take money for cancer research from tobacco firms. Over the past few days, I have asked the Shell Professor of Earth Sciences at Oxford, the university itself and the umbrella body Universities UK to explain the ethical difference between taking tobacco money for cancer research and taking fossil fuel money for energy research. None of these great heads, despite my repeated attempts to engage them, were prepared even to attempt an answer.”
On Thursday morning MCFly contacted the U of M, asking “can the University – in the shape of its press office, or the chair of BP-funded “International Centre for Advanced Materials – “explain the ethical difference between taking tobacco money for cancer research and taking fossil fuel money for energy research”?”
Later the same day we got a reply. Here it is in full;
Professor Colin Bailey, Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “To meet the needs of a global society it is important to provide affordable, secure and reliable sources of energy with the minimum possible impact on the environment. The University educates our students, and carries out leading research, in all aspects of energy supply and demand, including renewables, nuclear and hydrocarbons. We work closely with a number of international energy companies including organising and supporting student placements. The work with BP will be looking at the use of advanced materials across the entire energy sector (including work on renewables) with a paramount regard for the impact on the environment. Social responsibility is one of the three core goals for the University and we are committed to using our expertise and knowledge to find solutions to the major challenges of the 21st century, of which energy is one, and by producing graduates who exercise social leadership and responsibility.”
MCFly says: This is, of course, a reply rather than an answer to the question raised. When large institutions, public or private, are asked for information (or to justify their [in]actions), they tend to do one of two things. They either ignore the request altogether (a method often used by Manchester City Council, for example), or they reply to a different question and then consider the matter closed.
Still and all, the University did reply, and very promptly (same day!). Some readers may think this isn’t worth much, but we here at MCFly Towers think it’s an encouraging start.(1)
Disclaimer: MCFly co-editors Arwa Aburawa and Marc Hudson would like to point out that they have lived lives of exemplary moral purity, and have never once ridden in any vehicle that was powered by the stuff that companies like BP dig up and sell on. And if we did we regretted it. So that’s alright then.
(1) One editor is a graduate of U of M and the other is toying with the idea of doing a PhD there. Make of this what you will.
I attended a screening of Bill Mckibben’s (http://billmckibben.com/) film; Do the Maths (http://youtu.be/IsIfokifwSo) at the MERCi. In the film he points out that the Divestment Movement started at American Universities and proved very successful. It is time British students also took on the Universities establishment and call for a divestment of all fossil fuel companies and any that do business with the Israeli state.