Recently, a group of students at Oxford’s St. John’s College wrote to Professor Andrew Parker to discuss their demands about the university divesting from fossil fuels. As you can probably guess, being that this took place at Oxford, the students presented the university with a philosophical quandry. However, professor Parker’s response was to use the student’s logic against them.
According to The London Times:
“Two students at St John’s College wrote to Andrew Parker, the principal bursar, this week requesting a meeting to discuss the protesters’ demands, which are that the college “declares a climate emergency and immediately divests from fossil fuels”. They say that the college, the richest in Oxford, has £8 million of its £551 million endowment fund invested in BP and Shell.
Professor Parker responded with a provocative offer: “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice,” he wrote. “But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.”
One of the divestment students responded saying he would communicate Parker’s proposal, but also said he didn’t think the professor was being serious. The professor responded saying:
“You are right that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope. It is all too easy to request others to do things that carry no personal cost to yourself. The question is whether you and others are prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve the goals of environmental improvement (which I support as a goal).”
However, what makes Professor Parker’s move so brilliant, isn’t just his proposal, but the response from the divestment group themselves. Quoting (again) from The Times:
“Fergus Green, the organiser of the wider protest, who is studying for a master’s degree in physics and philosophy at <a href= "Fergus Green, the organiser of the wider protest, who is studying for a master’s degree in physics and philosophy at Balliol College, said: “This is an inappropriate and flippant response by the bursar to what we were hoping would be a mature discussion. It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.””>Balliol College, said: “This is an inappropriate and flippant response by the bursar to what we were hoping would be a mature discussion. It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.””
Professor Parker, rightly, put the focus of the divestment proposal where it should be. Ridding civilization of fossil fuels carries would be “borderline dangerous” not only to students but to real people, especially the poor. If care is not taken on how to proceed with policy proposals (like what the students advocate) a lot of people will suffer and even die. In short, the professor’s point to the students: you first.
PHOTO CREDIT: Canterbury Quad, St. John’s College, Oxford – Wikipedia, Godot13, Creative Commons License.