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Aan: The executive boards of all Dutch universities

We ask our executive boards to cut the ties with the fossil fuel industry

As an academic community of students and staff, we are committed to the search for scientific knowledge and truth, to unbiased research and to a just and livable world for all. Fossil fuel companies have no problem with undermining science when it suits them; their sponsoring activities leads to research bias; and they are not committed in word or deed to the world we want to see materialize. Unfortunately, Dutch universities are still closely tied to the fossil fuel industry through sponsoring and recruitment activities on campus. Because of our strong commitments, we cannot accept such ties. With bottom-up pressure rising, now is the time to move forward: we ask our executive boards to cut the ties with the fossil fuel industry.

We ask you – student or staff member of the academic community – to sign this petition and send it to others who might be willing to sign as well. Let’s show we care about our commitments!

If you are a student or employee of the UVA please use this petition: https://actie.fossielvrij.nl/petitions/uva-cut-ties-with-shell
If you are a student or employee of the VU please use this petition: https://actie.fossielvrij.nl/petitions/vu-leadership-sever-all-relationships-with-the-fossil-industry-now

Waarom is het belangrijk?

Universities are closely tied to the fossil industry through student "eco-awards", campus recruitment activities, alumni networks, research funding and sponsorships of student associations. Those ties are increasingly under pressure. Under the banner of End Fossil: Occupy! students occupied Erasmus University Rotterdam, Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of Amsterdam. Dutch researchers and internationally respected climate scientists emphatically backed the students' demand: cut the ties with the fossil industry.

A new consensus seems to be emerging in the responses from executive boards. The enthusiasm of students and staff is spoken of with understanding. But there is nothing wrong as long as we work on 'green' projects with the industry. Here, soothing words like 'dialogue,' 'connection' and 'innovation' are used. Go back to work or study in peace. With this response, the boards are getting off too easy. It seems primarily motivated by maintaining research funding and a sustainability image. There is no room for the fundamental question of what we stand for as an academic community. That's problematic.

First of all, that community stands for truth-telling. We strive to tell the truth without hiding existing uncertainties. For the fossil industry, truth has proven to be a much more malleable concept. As the scientific evidence on climate change accumulated, it began vilifying climate scientists and funding doubt campaigns that continue to affect the social polarization surrounding climate change in the United States to this day. In the Netherlands, Shell made a contribution by funding climate skeptic Frits Böttcher.

Second, the academic community stands for countering bias. However, research centers sponsored by the fossil industry write significantly more positively about gas than centers where such sponsorship is absent or much less present. And for decades, industry-sponsored economists focused only on the perceived costs of effective climate policy without including the benefits. Companies still so deep in oil and gas will try to secure their fossil interest - especially through research projects that provide a green image.

Finally, the academic community stands for a just and livable future. For a fair transition with no more than one and a half degrees of warming, rich countries like the Netherlands must phase out fossil fuels completely by 2034. You don't need to come up with this with fossil fuel companies. Released communications show that Shell employees are internally told that a path towards net zero emissions "has nothing to do with our business plans". External research also confirms that Shell is still busy with new fossil infrastructure - such as under the Wadden Sea - which cannot be built at all if we want to meet the climate goals.

Addressing the climate crisis requires a strong academic community that defends truth-telling, does not accept bias and takes seriously its concern for future generations. On that basis, it should cut all ties with corporations that knowingly work toward an unlivable future. Fossil companies are willing to undermine climate science when it suits them better and they are they not on the path to a fossil-free world at a pace that does justice to the current crisis situation.

The academic community we envision sets its own balanced research agenda for the transition. It is represented by the moral leadership of executive boards who dare to make difficult choices and take a stand against the rhetoric that we must "transition with fossil fuel companies". That such leadership is possible is proven by the severing of ties with the South African apartheid regime in the 1970s and very recently with the tobacco industry and Russian and Belarusian educational institutions. Students and staff would prefer to be committed to the great social and technological challenges in the outside world. But as long as ties to fossil industries remain, the campus will also be the domain of their engagement.

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