After students demanded their school sell its stocks in fossil fuels, a professor politely said he couldn’t do that — but he had a brilliant counter offer for them.
Professor Andrew Parker at St. John’s College, Oxford University, seized an opportunity to teach students an invaluable lesson in personal sacrifice and practicing what they preach. The educational opportunity arose after student protestors began occupying the college in protest of the school’s investments in fossil fuels.
According to the school newspaper, the student’s climate change strike resulted in a lockdown of the college after dozens of students set up camp in the front quad with signs and banners, vowing to remain there until their demands were met. Amid the protesting, professor Andrew Parker, who’s also the manager of the school’s financial affairs, received a letter from two students requesting a meeting.
The students hoped to discuss the protesters’ demands, one of which was that the school “declares a climate emergency and immediately divests from fossil fuels,” the Times of London reported. “They say that the college, the richest in Oxford, has £8 million [nearly $10 million USD] of its £551 million [almost $680 USD] endowment fund invested in BP and Shell,” the outlet added.
Professor Parker’s speedy response, which included a “provocative offer,” was almost certainly not what the student protesters had hoped for or expected. “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice,” Parker 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.”
After receiving Parker’s counteroffer, one of the students wrote back that he would pass on the request, but criticized Parker for not taking the matter seriously, the Times reported. And, again, Parker had an expedient retort for the student. “You are right that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope,” he responded.
“It is all too easy to request others to do things that carry no personal cost to yourself,” Parker furthered, encouraging the student protesters to practice what they preach and seriously consider whether they were willing to take actions that support their statements and opinions. In other words, he asked whether they were willing to put their money where their mouth is: “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).”
The organizer of the protest, a graduate student aptly named Fergus Green, apparently received Parker’s response. Calling his suggestion “borderline dangerous,” Green made it clear the students were none too pleased with Parker’s offer. “This is an inappropriate and flippant response by the bursar [manager of the financial affairs of a college or university] to what we were hoping would be a mature discussion,” Green complained. “It would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.”
But, isn’t that precisely the point professor Andrew Parker was trying to make with his seemingly outrageous suggestion? The situation at St. John’s College is really a microcosm of the larger debate taking place around the world, in which the anti-fossil fuel movement has demanded “real zero” emissions, starting immediately. But, what would that look like?
Following that advice is the equivalent of cutting off the gas heat in the middle of winter. And, as The Blaze points out, “It wouldn’t just be ‘borderline dangerous,’ it would almost certainly be catastrophic for millions of people.” Therefore, it’s fair to ask those making such demands whether they are personally ready to sacrifice their own warmth.
Sometimes, in order to have a “mature discussion,” we have to “provocatively” point out the reality and have an honest and uncomfortable conversation, reminding others that protests aren’t a game. They come with real-life consequences that they might not yet have considered, and we must remember the significant costs we are asking real people to pay.