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Top universities spark outrage after accepting millions in funding from contentious source: 'Educational institutions should cut all ties'

"Young people care so deeply about protecting the planet because their futures are on the line."

“Young people care so deeply about protecting the planet because their futures are on the line."

Photo Credit: iStock

A number of the UK's top-tier universities have accepted millions of dollars in funding from dirty energy giants, leaving people doubting their commitments to divest from the industry.

What happened?

Forty-four universities in the UK, including well-known institutions like Exeter, Oxford, and Cambridge, have collectively accepted more than $51 million from oil, coal, and gas companies since 2022, according to a new report from DeSmog.

Shell, BP, and the Malaysian-state-owned oil company Petronas were the biggest contributors, with Shell shelling out the most at about $26 million, DeSmog reported. The funds cover research agreements, scholarships, tuition fees, and more, at UK universities, which are facing financial strain.

At least 18 universities also held direct investments collectively worth about $10 million in 25 oil and gas companies in 2023. 

This is nothing new. Between 2017 and 2021, UK universities accepted contributions worth more than $110 million from oil and gas companies. However, many of these institutions have also promised to distance themselves from the dirty energy industry, per DeSmog.

Why are these contributions concerning?

The burning of dirty energy sources like coal, crude oil, and natural gas is taking its toll on the environment. It pollutes our air and water and contributes to the warming of our planet. It also endangers human health.

For instance, BP's Rumaila oilfield in Iraq made the air poisonous to local residents. Ali Hussein Jaloud developed leukemia at 15, and his doctors told him his illness was caused by BP's pollution. He died of cancer at 21, as the Guardian reported.

Obtaining these resources from the earth is also leading to land degradation. Strip miners, for instance, clear entire swaths of terrain, including forests and mountaintops, to expose underground coal or oil.

What can be done to limit the power of dirty energy companies?

Green Party Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas expressed concern over the universities still accepting money from these corporations. 

"Young people care so deeply about protecting the planet because their futures are on the line," Lucas said per the Guardian. "If we're going to tackle the climate emergency and secure a livable future for the next generation, educational institutions should cut all ties with fossil fuel companies immediately." 

The UK universities in question defended their actions, with Exeter telling Euronews that its partnership with Shell will "contribute to the global race to net zero." 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Imperial College London told the news organization that they would only accept money associated with decarbonization efforts ​​and "only if the company demonstrates a credible strategic commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050."

While these claims are yet to be seen, you can make a difference in the meantime by putting pressure on decision-makers to divest from oil, coal, and gas companies. This can include attending local government meetings and writing to important decision-makers like politicians and university administrators. 

You can also take a stand in your personal life by moving away from dirty energy as much as possible. This could be as big as investing in an EV or as little as commuting by bike or public transit. 

You can even make a sizable difference by altering how you cut your lawn. Currently, gas mowers account for up to 5% of the total air pollution in the United States, but opting for an electric mower can help.

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