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These Students Aren't Eating Until Their University Divests from Fossil Fuels

Three student activists at Cambridge University in the UK are six days into a hunger strike aimed at pressuring the school into divesting from fossil fuels. The protest, backed by hundreds of university staff and students, according to Cambridge News, is part of a three-year campaign led by the student environmental group Cambridge Zero Carbon.

About £377 million of the university’s £6.3 billion endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies, according to Cambridge Zero Carbon.

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University officials are expected to hear a report on Monday from a working group dedicated to considering the issue of divestment, as well as make a decision about its future investment strategy.

"The council will consider all aspects of divestment, including ethical issues, in its response" to the report, a university spokesperson told the Guardian. "The objective, as the report sets out, is to promote and execute urgent and tangible action to deliver a carbon neutral future."

If that "urgent and tangible action" is anything less than full divestment, the students have vowed to continue their strike "without an end-game in sight," according to Varsity, Cambridge University’s student newspaper.

The point of divesting from certain companies is to make the extraction of fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas — which release carbon dioxide into the air when burned and contribute to climate change — no longer profitable.

Divestment has been a popular way for institutions to combat climate change in recent years. A handful of universities in the United States and United Kingdom have committed to divesting their endowments from coal or fossil fuel companies — like King’s College, London, which agreed to a full divestment plan after a PhD student staged a hunger strike.

Read More: New York Is Divesting $5 Billion From Fossil Fuels

Sam Warren-Miell, one of the striking students at Cambridge, wrote about the thinking behind the strike in an op-ed in Varsity. He addressed the notion that hunger strikes are ego-driven and that students don’t have real political power.

"I do not accept this premise," he wrote. "Students have limited power, certainly, but here — in the wealthiest university in the UK and one of the most prestigious academic institutions on the planet — we are in a position of significant power relative to many people in the world, especially those in the global south facing the greatest risks from climate change.

“Divestment is one of those situations that calls on us to use every inch of our power, and every inch of our personal capacity, to fight for justice," he wrote.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for the end of fossil fuel use. You can take action on this issue here.