After a year of lobbying staff and the council at UCL, the fossil fuel divestment campaign have adopted a different approach: they’re attempting to raise student awareness through protest and debate.
This new tactic was started in a theatrical style, in which dozens of students staged a ‘die-in’ outside the Provost’s office on Monday lunchtime. It was accompanied by chants, informational videos and members of the campaign on hand to give information about the campaign. It even ended with a recital of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’
A number of curious bystanders asked about the campaign, and those who took part in the protest had a number of motives. One student watching the seen, Patrick, said that he ‘mostly came out of curiosity’.
Others were more aware of the issues, including Fabio who highlighted the irony of UCL supporting fossil fuels when the University is focused on sustainable development. Another said that it was a short minded financial investment, concluding that it would make more sense to put money into renewables as they will provide a more sustainable return.
Stuck on to each of the ‘corpses’ were statements about the fossil fuel industry and climate change including one assertion that 300,000 people die every year as a result of climate change, another claimed that Shell paid $15 million to settle allegations that they had paid Nigerian Military to torture and execute protestors.
This highlights another element of the divest campaign, not only to stop the use of fossil fuels, but also to decrease support and undermine the practices of the companies that produce them.
Liam, a student at the protest, said that by investing in companies like Shell, you are legitimising their human rights and environmental abuses.
The campaign is one of many organised at universities globally, with a number of successes such as SOAS, who announced they would divest in 2015 following 18 months of campaigning from students and staff.
Twenty five universities have changed their policy due to protests across the country; however, a number of these ‘victories’ have included only partial commitments. For instance, the University of Cambridge announced earlier this year that it would be divesting £5.9bn from coal and tar-sands, but would nevertheless continue investment in oil and gas.
UCL currently invests £14.4 million in fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP and Total and has reportedly lost £1.25 million because of these financial endeavours.
Julia Schaff, one of the organisers of Monday’s protest, said that the campaign at UCL aims to build momentum this year, having already received support from the academic board at the university.
The only remaining hurdle is the upper echelons of management. The campaign’s focus will be on creating grass root campaigns and encourage students to get involved through potion signing and participation at meetings.
Additional reporting by Lucy Bacon
Featured image: Matthew Parkes