In parts of northern China last week air pollution levels hit twenty times the safety limit set by the World Health Organisation. Since this coincided with a Brazil v Argentina soccer match being played in Beijing, it made some headlines on our sports pages. The wellbeing of elite Premier League players is always big news. The game should have been called off but commercial interests prevailed.
The government of China may have declared “war on pollution” but, clearly, more progress needs to be made. Coal-fired power stations stlll produce around 70 per cent of China’s electricity and is a major cause of their pollution problem. Coal also generates close to 40 per cent of US electricity. If blame for the pollution of our planet is to be apportioned, it should not be confined to China.
Amidst the emotive frenzy surrounding any debate about fossil fuels, it can easily be forgotten that in most circumstances there is not a viable alternative. And it is not only heating and transport that are fossil fuel dependent. Much food production in the western world is reliant on fertilisers made from fossil fuels. In addition, synthesis gas from fossil fuels is fundamental to the chemical industry and its off-shoots such as pharmaceuticals and plastics.
Fossil fuels, clearly, bring great benefits as well as serious problems. As with the benefits, the problems affect all of us and ‘solutions’ have to be found. The best way forward is, surely, for fossil fuel companies to work alongside research institutions, including universities, to discover ways of minimising the emission of greenhouse gases and developing methods for capturing and storing carbon.
How astonishing, then, that a student environmentalist group at Glagow University has persuaded the university governing body to sell its 18 million pounds worth of shares in the fossil fuel extractiom industry. By severing its ties with the industry the university is likely to lose millions of pounds of research funding that would have gone into addressing the very issues about which the the environmentalists claim to be so concerned.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s students reclaiming the university,” boasted the student representative on the university’s governing body. The decision was made without consulting the university’s science and engineering faculties. Aghast at the ignorance of those from a liberal arts background making the decision, seven engineering and geology professors have protested vigorously. The universities of Oxford and of Edinburgh are, apparently, next in line to follows the ‘environmentalists’ from Glasgow.
What we are witnessing is the evolution of so-called, and mostly fake, ‘global citizenship’ and ‘sustainable development’ ideologies that are now moving along the educational road from the school curriculum into universities. We all want a better and less polluted world, not least the ‘prima donna’ soccer players who had to turn up for duty in Beijing’s smog last week. However, when good environmental intentions are submerged in ignorance our world is truly endangered. The road to hell always was paved with good intentions.