A letter to Prof. O’Shea from a University Lecturer

20 Feb

The People and Planet campaign to get our University to invest ethically and divest from arms companies and fossil fuels continues. For 5 years we’ve petitioned, written letters, done stunts, sat in meetings, done banner drops and held an occupation. Last week we picketed Charles Stewart House (where University finance are located) and shut down the building because the University are still failing to meet our asks and help save the planet. Following our action Materials Chemistry lecturer Mark de Vries sent this letter of support to the Principal…

Dear Prof. O’Shea,

This is in support of the students from People and Planet Edinburgh Uni and their request for the management to divest from fossil fuels and arms. I appreciate the disruption to normal operations is unwelcome, but such disruption would not have been there if the University had been run democratically, fairly reflecting the views of staff and students.

Half a year on from the latest decisions on this topic by the University a lot has changed. The weather patterns we have all seen this autumn and winter have been thoroughly disturbing and have hurt many households and businesses in the UK. Will we see cherry blossoms in the Meadows this spring? All across Western Europe the buds were coming in December due to the record high temperatures. If these buds are killed off by the later frosts it will be a sad reminder of the consequences of your fossil fuel use and the apparent determination to continue to do so. It is easy to see that already now it becomes more difficult to grow fruit do to chaotic weather patterns. This is just one of the ways climate change is affecting people right now, and increasing inequality and insecurity.

A world without fossil fuels is possible – please be open to alternative views, to an alternative mindset, to low-carbon ways of life. The students from People and Planet are the vocal ones, but also here in the School of Chemistry many staff and students are anxious and want solid action on climate change. Of course the University is doing many good things and I have always been grateful for having been part of this University for so long, but the problem right now is that all of us at the University model a high-carbon lifestyle and work style. This should call for humbleness and a lot of action locally. This is not a time to sit back and proudly look at what we have achieved so far. It is probably unavoidable that we have to accept some financial and existential pain as part of this. However, if we as a society fail to go far enough with our actions, then that is utterly sad, and a great evil. Universities should take the lead and help to avoid this.

With a number of colleagues I wrote a statement in support of the Zero Carbon Britain plan of action for the UK. It is available here:


To limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees we need to be virtually fossil-fuel free before 2035 though. As you know the 1.5 degrees rise is set by scientists and the global community has agreed to work towards this. Please help and put the weight of the University behind this too. It would require far-reaching action right now though. Where there is a will there is a way.

Does the University management agree we should work hard to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 C?


Mark de Vries.


You can also show your support for the campaign by emailing principal@ed.ac.uk

or tweeting @EdinburghUni #divesttherestEd

or giving the University a bad Google review!



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