New Weather co-director Prof Bill McGuire resigns from scientific body over fossil fuel funding – full letter

As reported in this BBC News article, New Weather Institute co-director, Prof Bill McGuire has resigned from the Geological Society over its relationships with fossil fuel companies, following 40 years of membership. In a short introduction and his open resignation letter below, he explains what brought him to this point and invites others to consider their membership…

Earlier this week, I resigned from one of the UK’s leading learned societies after forty years as a fellow. Here’s the letter explaining why. When soaring greenhouse gas emissions are on track to send our world to hell in a handcart, it beggar’s belief that the Geological Society continues to feel that it’s a good idea to cosy up to the fossil fuel sector. Seventy percent of the society’s patrons are fossil fuel companies, a figure that rises close to ninety percent in relation to external sponsorship of events. At a time of climate emergency, the embracing of these corporations and their money makes the society complicit in the obfuscation of climate science and support of climate deniers that is their stock-in-trade. I urge all members and fellows to think long and hard about whether or not to maintain links with the society and to take the action required if we are to prevent rapid and catastrophic climate breakdown.

November 18th 2019

Executive Secretary,

The Geological Society

Dear Sir,

My resignation: an open letter

It is with enormous sadness and regret that I feel I must resign from the Society forthwith. It has been more than forty years since I joined as a Junior Associate. Since then, I have held the Chair of the (formerly) Volcanic Studies Group, enabled the formation of the Volcanic & Magmatic Studies Group, sat on Council, acted as the national representative for IAVCEI and for the IUGG, and organised many conferences and other events.

            Now, however, I feel that I can no longer – in all conscience – continue to have any further association with the Society. I have been considering leaving for some time, as the  Society has developed – at least to my mind – an increasing industry focus, and the final straw was reading though the recent annual report and noting the list of corporate affiliates. To anyone with even the slightest interest in the environment and the sort of world we wish to leave our children and their children, this reads like a tally from hell; a list of some of the biggest despoilers of the surface of our planet, its ecosystems and its atmosphere. Even worse, a number of the corporations listed have worked actively to discredit climate science and to undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

            I appreciate, of course, that these affiliates are major employers of geologists, but – at a time of climate and ecological emergency – this is quite simply no excuse, nor a justification, for sustaining links with companies that are working against humanity and that put profit before people’s lives and livelihoods. It truly beggars belief that the Society can sign up to a communique on climate change, demanding action by government, businesses, public institutions and others – as it did in 2015 – yet continue to cosy up to some of the world’s most polluting corporations.

            More than anyone else, Earth scientists should appreciate the devastating consequences for life of sudden and dramatic climate breakdown. Knowing this, if we – as professional geologists – still act as if there is no problem, as if business can continue as usual, then what hope is there for the less informed? It has been clear for decades now that serious action to slash greenhouse gas emissions is desperately needed. The Society, however, is complicit in helping to undermine such action through maintaining its links with those who demand the continued extraction of fossil fuels and who would damn us all to climate and societal breakdown.

            The Society does a wonderful job promoting the Earth Sciences and plays a critical role in educating and training Earth Scientists, but it has also responsibilities  – particularly at this critical time – to play its part in tackling the climate crisis. This means calling out hydrocarbon companies that, in the last eighteen months alone, invested an estimated USD50 billion in schemes to extract oil and gas from tar sands, deepwater fields and the Arctic. It means shunning support and sponsorship from corporations whose activities undermine global efforts to avoid runaway global heating. And it means playing a pro-active role in encouraging new Earth scientists to follow career paths that embrace low-carbon climate solutions, such as geothermal and carbon capture and storage. In this way, the Society can become part of the climate crisis solution, rather than implicitly supporting its cause.

            As a parting gift, I strongly urge the Society to look again at its roll call of corporate affiliates and to think seriously about what sort of message this sends to those beyond the walls of Burlington House. Increasingly, as climate breakdown bites ever harder, the Society, its activities and it’s relevance in an increasingly challenged world, will be judged by the company it keeps.

Yours sincerely

Bill McGuire

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