Fossil fuels in a modern world

Divestment. What a bloody big word. I’m sure that most of you are as familiar as I was with the term up until about a week ago when plans were made to feature it in our section here at Concrete.

Although, the whole, albeit terrifyingly dull, term ‘fossil fuel divestment’ couldn’t be more relevant to us as students at UEA.

Fortunately for you lucky readers, we’ve provided a spread here just to properly explain exactly what fossil fuels are all about, pick through some more eco-friendly alternative energy sources, and report on our university’s own standpoint when it comes to investment in fossil fuels.

So, let’s begin with the basics. I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a recap. Or maybe I don’t play close enough attention to current events. Anyway, what specifically is a fossil fuel?

A fossil fuel is a type of energy source which is extracted from natural bases such as natural gas, coal and oil. These bases are made of the decomposed remains of dead organisms from millions of years ago, hence the term ‘fossil’.

Coal and oil and all that; great! We can power all sorts with that – cars, steamboats, electricity. And don’t get me started on plastic. Plastic is a by-product of petroleum, which is used in lots of other cool modern things too – artificial limbs, parachutes, and loudspeakers just to name a few. But as with most of those ‘too good to be true’ type scenarios, there’s always a downside.

Fossil fuels are widely considered a non-renewable energy source, meaning that although fuels are still being created underground, the rate that the planet is consuming the existent fuels available has rapidly overtaken the Earth’s ability to replenish them. For us, this indicates that unless we find a better long-term solution for our consumerist population, we’re toast.

And now on to ‘divestment’. Simply explained, divestment is the opposite of investment. When combined, an organisation that supports fossil fuel divestment is one that chooses to sever all ties with any companies involved in the production of fossil fuels. Throughout the world, many organisations have taken this important step.

The campaign conglomerate ‘Go Fossil Free’, founded in partnership with The Guardian newspaper and student campaigning network People & Planet among others, aims to completely shut off support for the fossil fuel industry.

Their website also provides a handy link to a list naming and shaming the world’s top companies and countries involved in fossil fuel consumption.

The United Kingdom currently ranks 5th highest in the world, with China, Russia and India in the top three respectively. The world sucks, doesn’t it?

But examples throughout history have proven that divestment is an effective way of reordering an archaic system.

The most famous of these would be the disinvestment from South Africa that began in the 1960s to protest Apartheid.

By 1988, over 150 universities had dedicated themselves to separating any connection they may have to South African businesses. South African currency suffered, and companies that still had investments in South Africa gained significantly less than if divestment had not been enacted.

The good people at Go Fossil Free remind us that there are at least 800 organisations worldwide that have committed to the grassroots campaign, with roughly $5.2 billion being divested.

Notable organisations include the University of Glasgow, the British Medical Association, and the entire Norwegian city of Oslo.

So, to divest or invest…?


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Hattie Griffiths

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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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