In response to an investigative report by Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed project revealing that “the oil giant BP has has used money from a “low carbon transition” fund to buy shares in companies developing new ways to find and use fossil fuels”, members of Extinction Rebellion Cambridge’s youth wing have again visited the University of Cambridge’s BP Institute to highlight their role in giving BP social legitimacy. The messages “OIL KILLS”, “BPI LIES”, “PLANET OVER PROFIT”, “DIVEST NOW” and “DIVEST” were spray painted onto the outside walls. This is not Extinction Rebellion Cambridge’s first protest against BP. They have previously blockaded the University of Cambridge’s BP Institute, turned the forecourt of a BP petrol station into an art exhibition, and, most recently, used their daily exercise during lockdown to mark the 10 year anniversary of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill with chalk sprayed reminders of the death and destruction.
An Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge activist, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “Greenwashing is, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, making people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is. It is ecocide is environmentalist’s clothing. This report is the latest in a long line which prove that there are few more practiced at this than BP, which spends $30 million each year on advertising campaigns with names like “Beyond Petroleum”, while directing 97% of its capital expenditure towards the extraction of fossil fuels. In the early 2000s, it popularised the term “carbon footprint” in order to shift the blame from itself and the other 99 companies who are collectively responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions onto individuals trapped in a socioeconomic system in which BP’s annual expenditure of $50 million in political lobbying blocks laws aimed at combatting the climate crisis, including laws which would make the lifestyle changes they enthusiastically promote more accessible to ordinary people. This year, it announced a 2050 target for net zero carbon emissions, along with a strategy proposal which, conveniently, allows it to continue increasing sales of fossil fuels by counting on a proliferation of Carbon Capture and Storage technology far beyond the realms of scientific and economic possibility. This is gambling with people’s lives, and it is gambling very badly. But it’s being hidden behind a smokescreen created to protect BP’s profit margins from the growing calls for climate justice.”
Another Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge activist, who also chose to remain anonymous, added, “We do not need to look far from home to find examples of BP’s greenwashing. The University of Cambridge’s BP Institute gets its name due to funding from BP, intended to give it undeserved legitimacy through connections to a prestigious centre of knowledge and learning. Because, if the University of Cambridge, with its Institute for Sustainable Leadership and Cambridge Zero climate initiative (conveniently named such that search engine results are directed away from the student-led, divestment-focused Cambridge Zero Carbon Society), is willing to be associated with BP, then surely it can’t be so bad? It is dirty tactics like this which allow BP to brazenly invest in an oilfield analysing AI and a private jet app developer with the money from a fund branded as “a portfolio of relevant technology businesses that will help BP transition to a low carbon economy”. The University of Cambridge is actively facilitating this, for BP and for other ecocidal companies like Shell and Schlumberger, and it is vital that we hold all of them to account. We refuse to bow to the whims of corporations and institutions who place their own short-term interests over the future of life on Earth and the huge number who are already dying or being made refugees. Those currently most affected are Black and Indigenous people by the climate and ecological crisis, who contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions, while being the protectors of most of Earth’s Biodiversity. Their ongoing oppression due to European colonialism and extractivism is at the root of the climate and ecological crisis, and they are are at the forefront of the fight against it, despite having very little political or economic power. We are therefore not leaders or saviours, but, when we are in such a position of privilege by comparison, and when power is on our doorstep, our silence is violence.”
This protest comes in the same week that Exinction Rebellion Cambridge are set to begin a fresh wave of action against the University of Cambridge and its non-divested colleges as part of its ongoing divestment campaign, and shortly after Extinction Rebellion East of England announced 4 days of “rebelling across the region” over the August Bank Holiday weekend. This will lead into nationally-coordinated protests, timed to coincide with the reopening of Parliament.