Record-high temperatures, widespread flooding, famine, refugee crises; these are just some of the many and various effects of climate change which the world is experiencing now and which will only intensify as global warming worsens. Evidence clearly shows that one of the greatest causes of the climate crisis is the activities of fossil fuel companies; in 2018, 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels and industry.
Last week ECO DU, Durham University’s climate justice group, celebrated the first big victory of their Fossil Free Careers campaign, as Durham Student Union passed a motion which will secure their support as the campaign moves forward. Durham SU has now become one of nine student unions across the country, including Cambridge and Bristol, which have passed such a motion.
The Fossil Fuel Careers campaign is a national campaign coordinated by environmental organisation People and Planet, which aims to target university career departments and their close ties with fossil fuel industries. The campaign’s goal is to push universities to adopt an Ethical Careers policy, which would cease the promotion of careers within the fossil fuel and mining industries. The campaign lists 200 of the biggest fossil fuel companies and 50 mining companies currently involved in active conflict from which university careers departments would cease to have an active relationship.
Despite the claims of large fossil fuel companies such as Exxon and Shell that they are participating in a green energy transition, research shows that progress to reach their targets for investments in renewable or low-carbon energy is minimal. Between 2010 and 2018, Shell put just 1% of its long-term investments into sources of low-carbon energy, the same amount which is spent on marketing. This comes at a time when many fossil fuel companies are reporting their greatest profits to date, with Shell recently announcing a profit of $9.5 billion between July and September, more than double its profits from the same quarter the year before.
Not only does a career within the fossil fuel industry remain ethically ambiguous for these reasons, but it is also inherently unstable as the necessary shift to a national renewable energy plan and a green transition approaches. It is clear that students have realised the instability of such jobs; between 2013 and 2017, the number of UK graduates entering oil and gas jobs fell by 61%. The campaign hopes that, by further reducing the number of graduates who enter the industry, fossil fuel and mining companies will be forced to scale down and cease their extractivist operations and their plans for new oil and gas fields, and open the way for a green transition to renewable energy sources.
The campaign follows the move of 100 UK universities, 65% of higher education institutions, to commit to removing their investments in fossil fuel companies in the last few years, a list which includes Durham University.
The campaign has further precedent in its aims, as 20% of UK University Career departments already hold an industry-wide exclusion on ethical grounds, mainly for jobs in the tobacco, sex and gambling industries. These existing ethical careers policies demonstrate universities’ growing recognition of their duty to students in providing them with ethical careers advice which will secure them a stable job.
Concerns of the necessary impartiality of careers departments are thus unfounded, as an Ethical Careers policy does not prevent students from receiving advice about careers in the fossil fuel industry if they specifically ask, but rather will ensure such jobs are not actively advertised to students due to their fundamental instability.
In September, the campaign saw its first big success, with Birkbeck, University of London, pledging to put in place an Ethical Careers Policy which will end oil, gas, and mining recruitment on campus.
The support of the SU will be crucial as ECO DU pushes forwards with their campaign and enters into conversation with the University Careers department. A petition supporting the campaign can be found via the ECO DU Instagram or Facebook group, as well as information about how to get involved.
(Image via People and Planet.)