The Times of London’s Ben Webster asks, “How do you respond when placard-waving students occupy your 15th-century quadrangle and refuse to leave until you sell the college’s shares in oil companies? As this is Oxford, naturally you present them with a philosophical dilemma.”
Professor Andrew Parker manages the college’s £551 million endowment fund, £8 million of which is invested in BP and Shell. This represents a whopping 1.45% of the value of the fund. Webster reports:
Two students at St John’s College wrote to Parker 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.”
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 students replied to Parker’s offer and accused him of not taking them seriously. And “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.”
Clearly Parker was not seriously considering turning off the heat. Rather, he was hoping to teach them a life lesson. He wrote back to the students: “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).”
It’s easy for climate change activists to make demands, but they often have no understanding of the consequences and/or the costs involved in executing them.
In this case, the students are calling on the investment managers to immediately sell all of their shares in BP and Shell. They need to understand that energy stocks are currently lagging the market. They are very much out of favor and there could be a lot of upside. Energy stocks pay high dividends. There are also many reasons why an endowment fund manager might want to sell. But dumping a large block of stock to placate a group of students is not one of them.
Do these students realize how many of their activities require the use of fossil fuels? Do they understand that the gas required to fly airplanes and to run their cars flows through a pipeline?
Kudos to Professor Parker for giving these “woke” students an education.