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Cambridge University blacklist coal and tar sands sparking student and academic revolt



cambridge uni by Mihnea Maftei via Flickr

The University of Cambridge stated it won’t invest directly in coal and tar sand companies after pressure from students and academics on fossil fuel investments. A meeting of the University Council approved the report of a Working Group set up in May 2015 to explore ethical investment, with coal and tar sands excluded from current and future holdings. However, it has not divested from oil and gas industries, despite pressure from students and academics to do so.

The Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, a student group which campaigns for the University to divest its endowment of over £4billion from fossil fuels, has  criticised the University’s decision and vowed to fight on by taking the issue to Regent House, Cambridge University’s senate of academics.

Angus Satow, Campaigns Officer at Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, said: “Whilst we welcome these tentative first steps to divestment, this is too little, too slow. The University has failed to live up to its own mission statement, including ‘concern for sustainability and the relationship with the environment’. University administrators have ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fossil fuel industry is not viable if we are to avoid breaching the 2°C warming limit, they have ignored the strong demands of a united student body, and they have ignored financial common sense. Civil society must stand up to the fossil fuel industry if we want a liveable future, and Cambridge University has a moral duty to lead. We are confident that a battle of ideas among Cambridge academics will see divestment emerge as the only viable option. We will win a vote among academics next year, and Cambridge will divest from fossil fuels.”

The decision comes after a year in which Cambridge University has faced intense pressure on its fossil fuel investments. Nearly 2200 students have signed a petition for divestment, while the Student union council voted 33:1 in favour of divestment. In April 100 academics and notable University figures signed an open letter calling for divestment, with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams among those backing action on the “life-and-death” question of climate change. On the 30th of April over 250 people marched through Cambridge calling for divestment, with local MP Daniel Zeichner among those speaking.

Andrew Taylor Co-Director Campaigns & Communication, at People & Planet said: ‘It’s great to see world leading universities like Cambridge blacklisting coal and tar sand companies. But it is arrogant of them to think that companies like BP and Shell are going to stop making vast profits from oil and gas just because they ask nicely.’

The University has, however, not ceded to the pressure. Instead the report prioritises “engaging with fund managers” and using Cambridge’s voting rights as shareholders. There will also be an open letter from the Vice-Chancellor of the University to fund managers, calling on them to anticipate changes as carbon pricing and regulation is introduced by governments. Respected figures such as Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, have in the past warned of a “carbon bubble”. The report mentions “progressive divestment” as an option for the future.

Campaigners have criticised the move as insufficient, attacking the Working Group for a lack of transparency and engagement with students. Last month shareholder resolutions at Exxon Mobil’s Annual General Meeting all fell, leading some to argue that engagement with fossil fuel companies is a ‘doomed task’. The issue will be decided at a vote of academics next term.

Alice Guillaume, a second year undergraduate and campaigns officer for the
Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, added: “This has been a deeply flawed process from the beginning. From a refusal to hear divestment witnesses to the dismissal of the student body, the Working Group buried its head in the sand to avoid facing the obvious: fossil fuels are our past, not our future. Indeed, the universally acknowledged 2°C warming limit was doubted by the chair of the Working Group. The University has refused to face up to facts. Our campaign will continue.”

Earlier this month Newcastle University, Southampton University and Queen Mary University London, all committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.




Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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