Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge (XRYC) has initiated a project exposing fossil fuel ties in Cambridge, beginning with Cambridge University-affiliated CASP (Cambridge Arctic Shelf Project). This research institution, funded by subscriptions from oil companies including BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil, aims to find new opportunities for oil extraction. It has projects around the world, including the Arctic - an area that scientists warn is at high environmental risk from oil exploration.

Over the weekend, a small number of activists visited the site during their daily exercise to take part in an action calling attention to the institute’s research activities. They sprayed slogans including ‘leave the oil in the ground’ and ‘stop searching for oil’ onto the building, which is hidden deep in Cambridge University’s West Cambridge site.

The group claims that CASP obscures the nature of their research and funding. Over time, CASP’s website has been stripped of explicit references to the oil and gas industries, and increasingly technical language has been used to obfuscate the institute’s true purpose. And though CASP is listed as a charity, its funding model is based on subscriptions from oil companies - in the most recent financial reports, around £1 million was paid to CASP by 12 different fossil fuel companies. XRYC member Annie said ‘Let’s be plain - CASP is dedicated to finding more opportunities for fossil fuel extraction. Inexplicably, their accounts show they intend to continue for decades to come. It’s very clear that we should be stopping oil production immediately - we don’t have decades!’

The activists also raise questions about the links between CASP and the University of Cambridge. Following a report by the university’s Zero Carbon student society, the university attempted to distance itself from CASP, removing the institute’s website and many references to it. It is unclear to what extent a relationship remains: CASP continues to be housed on university land, appears on its signage, and is listed as a library of the university.

Tom, a member of XRYC, said ‘We’ve been using the lockdown to do some research relating to our first local demand - that the university should cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry. We’ve visited CASP before, but we didn’t realise the extent of its environmental damage until we did further digging. We’d like to know if the University of Cambridge still supports this extractivist research. They claim to be the first university in the world to adopt science-based targets for carbon reduction, but researching how and where to extract oil is the exact opposite of this. At face value, they seem pretty ashamed of CASP given how far they’ve gone to hide their connections.’

The group is embarking on a longer-term project to highlight carbon-intensive industries and research in Cambridge. They encourage anyone with information about these connections to get in touch with them.

All rebels taking part in this action did so during their daily exercise, wore masks and socially distanced themselves to ensure the safety of all involved. An XRYC member has previously explained: ‘We wish we had time to wait for the coronavirus crisis to end before going back to tackling the climate crisis, but we don’t, because they’re inextricably linked. Activism is something that is very hard to do purely from home, so we believe our protests must continue, albeit in a more socially distant form with more safety measures. We are very careful not to break the terms of the lockdown, but if the climate crisis is allowed to continue unchallenged, the consequences for global public health will be dire - much, much worse than the current pandemic. Many doctors, medical staff, and even the editor of The Lancet, a major medical research journal, have stated this but have been ignored by the government. We don’t have any more time, and the current crisis shows this.’