A professor at St. John’s College, Oxford University, just taught student protesters an invaluable lesson in personal sacrifice.
According to the school newspaper, Oxford students have been occupying St. John’s College since Wednesday in protest of the school’s investments in fossil fuels. Dozens of students have reportedly set up camp in the front quad with signs and banners, vowing to remain until their demands are met.
Amid the protesting, professor Andrew Parker, also a manager of the school’s financial affairs, received a letter from two students requesting a meeting to discuss their demands — including the school’s divestment from fossil fuels. His speedy response was almost certainly not what they were expecting.
Here’s the story from the Times of London:
Two students at St John’s College wrote to Andrew Parker, the principal bursar, 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.” They say that the college, the richest in Oxford, has £8 million of its £551 million endowment fund invested in BP and Shell.
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.”
According to the Times, one of the students wrote back that he would pass on the request, but criticized Parker for not taking the matter seriously.
“You are right that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope,” Parker responded. “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).”
Evidently, the student did pass on the request, because the organizer of the protest, a graduate student fittingly named Fergus Green, heard and responded to Parker, calling his suggestion “borderline dangerous.”
“This is an inappropriate and flippant response by the bursar to what we were hoping would be a mature discussion,” Green blasted. “It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.”
Yes, it would be “borderline dangerous” — that is true. In fact, that is precisely the point Parker intended to make with his provocative suggestion: shutting off the gas heating would personally cost the student protesters their warmth. Hence his second response to the two students, in which he says, “the question is whether you and others are prepared to make personal sacrifices.”
In its coverage of the story, HotAir noted the richness of Green’s response, as well, arguing that the situation at St. John’s College is really a microcosm of the larger debate taking place around the world.
The teenage face of the anti-fossil fuel movement, Greta Thunberg, recently demanded “real zero” emissions starting right now. Following her advice would be the equivalent of cutting off the gas that heats the campus in the middle of winter. It wouldn’t just be “borderline dangerous” it would almost certainly be catastrophic for millions of people. Despite this, I bet protest organizer Fergus Green thinks she’s part of a “mature discussion.” Professor Parker’s response focuses the mind on the fact that this isn’t a game. There are significant costs to real people associated with eliminating fossil fuels.