05(06): Fuel for Thought – Powering Progress and Sparking Sustainability with Fossil Fuel Philanthropy

Nicholas Loh Avatar

As an alumnus of Maris Stella High School and a current student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), I echo the sentiments of the opinion piece by Mr Sim Lim Onn (‘Grateful for big donation to NUS’, 13 April 2023). I vividly recall the TK Low Hall within the campus of Maris Stella High School, which would always be used for a myriad of activities, enhancing the school experience for Marists across all year levels.

Like Mr Sim, I am pleased to learn about the generous donation of $101 million to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy by the Low Tuck Kwong Foundation. A similar instance occurred with the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in NUS, where a donation by the Yong Loo Lin Trust in 2005 enabled the school to bolster clinical research and its integration with medical education.

Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge the concerns raised by some individuals regarding institutions accepting donations linked to fossil fuels, as it could risk undermining their environmental stances. At this juncture, it would behove us to be acquainted with the story of HeLa cells – immortal cells derived from cancerous tissue samples taken from Ms Henrietta Lacks in 1951. Despite the samples having been obtained without her consent (albeit a legally acceptable practice in the United States in the 1950s), the HeLa cell line has contributed significantly towards numerous medical breakthroughs including genome mapping, and HPV vaccine development, despite their morally complex origins. Thus, the potential benefits associated with accepting such donations should not be entirely disregarded.

Utilitarianism encourages maximising overall happiness and well-being. In this case, the advantages of using the donation by the Low Tuck Kwong Foundation to support leadership programmes for policymakers and scholars from Asia, as well as promoting research in green energy, could be deemed to outweigh the ethical concerns. It is vital to focus on the opportunity to train leaders who can advocate for sustainability practices and contribute to the global fight against climate change. Whilst it is important to scrutinise university funding sources, we also have a duty to acknowledge the positive outcomes that can arise from accepting donations linked to fossil fuels. By educating and empowering leaders dedicated to sustainability, we can be good stewards of our resources whilst on our quest to create a more environmentally responsible future.

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