Extinction Rebellion Cambridge calls for No Going Back to business as usual in coronavirus recovery: polluting industries must not receive bailouts and must transition to a positive business model or close for good.

On 30th April, XR Cambridge took part in the debut of the national XR campaign No Going Back. Up and down the country, XR targeted the industries they say are most damaging for the future of the planet. XR calls for no bailouts for the big polluters, no bailouts for billionaires and no more investment in arms. Instead, the group argues that global governments should focus on tackling issues essential to safeguarding wellbeing now and for future generations.

The action comes just days after António Gutteres, the UN Secretary-General made a similar demand, saying that taxpayer money should not be used to rescue polluting businesses and that governments “must not be bailing out outdated, polluting, carbon-intensive industries.”

Marcus from XR Cambridge said: “It has become clear now that biodiversity breakdown and the abuse and exploitation of animals has made viral pandemics such as COVID-19 much more likely. Air pollution has been shown to significantly increase the likelihood of death for those that catch the disease, and it has also recently been found to help spread the virus. How much more evidence do we need to tackle the climate crisis? It is not distinct from the coronavirus crisis, but highly linked. Tackling one requires tackling the other.”

“More people are coming to see that we have to put all our efforts into combating the climate and biodiversity crises, which viciously reinforce each other, or we will pay the price - a price not in the future, but right now. Yet still our government subsidises the aviation industry, legislates that oil companies must extract as much oil as possible, and tries to bail out every polluting industry it can. It has to stop. There has to be no going back or our last chance to avoid societal, climate, and ecological collapse will vanish.”

To raise awareness of big local polluters, XR activists visited several Cambridge institutions. A key target was Schlumberger, which describes itself as the world’s leading oilfield services company. Schlumberger is hosted by the University of Cambridge on its West Site where it researches technologies to maximise fossil fuel company profits. Activists symbolically locked its main gates shut, pasted a Closed for Good order over them, and chalk-sprayed related messages on the building. An activist involved in the action explained: “Schlumberger are involved all over the globe in oil extraction operations, plainly ignoring the scientific warnings of the last 50 years that continuing to extract fossil fuels will lead to the collapse of our climate.”

Another major target was Marshall, an aerospace and defence company that own Cambridge Airport and several car dealerships. An XR Youth Cambridge activist explained: “As well as being involved in arms, which has a huge carbon footprint and of course many direct casualties, Marshall are also one of the biggest polluters in Cambridge through their airport traffic. I find it a bit ironic that they’re working on ventilators - all credit to them for turning their tech to a good use for once, but air pollution is linked to covid-19 mortality as well as thousands of deaths a year in normal times. The best thing they could do for public health would be to wind down their polluting businesses.”

Cambridge Airport mainly serves business flights and private aircraft - two of the most polluting forms of air transport. Marshall’s new director has made clear the company’s plans for future expansion, saying “we are fully committed to growing our business and leisure traffic.”

Several other high-polluting businesses were also targeted and exposed on social media as part of the action, and the group says that many more will feature as this campaign unfolds. XR claims that Cambridge has a high concentration of businesses that are harmful to people and the climate, perhaps because of the strong ties between the University of Cambridge and the fossil fuel industry. Our planet is close to the edge of several irreversible climate tipping points: XR says that it is time that polluting businesses are seen for what they are and that appropriate action is taken to stop them destroying lives.