This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
When you see the above picture, do you think "socially conscious young people trying to save the planet," or "drunken lost causes in the throes of the kind of bro-down cum group sex cum suicide ritual that would feature in a late night Inbetweeners spin-off"?
The picture is in fact of some student activists from Fossil Free UCL, a campaign at University College London demanding that the university stops investing in the fossil-fuel industry. Yesterday, they staged a sort of love-in at a UCL Council meeting dressed as Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and the UCL Provost, Michael Arthur, to highlight the "incestuous" relationship between the university and the fossil fuel industry. Council members, including the Provost himself, had to shove their way through an elaborate visual pun to get to their meeting. Students covered in "oil" and wearing placards demanding that UCL "Break up with fossil fuels" were in the way.
Guin Carter, a second year politics and economics student who helped organize the action, pointed out the hypocrisy of UCL's investment in the fossil fuel industry when the University's own research "explicitly states that we must keep carbon based fuels in the ground to avoid climate chaos."
I asked Beth Parkin, another of the students involved, to tell me more about what happened.
VICE: What is going on in these pictures?
Beth: UCL has £21 million [$32 million] invested in the fossil-fuel industry, and we wanted to highlight this kind of incestuous relationship between UCL and the fossil-fuel industry. So basically we covered ourselves in molasses, which looks like oil, wearing masks of the Shell logo and our provost Michael Arthur, and we staged a scene whereby Shell and UCL were kind of getting it on in this context of an oil orgy.
It looks like some kind of revolting rowing-team initiation.
[Laughs] Yeah, that's true. It wasn't. Everyone did it of their own accord.
Who's the guy in the suit with the blue tie? He looks very annoyed.
So what was great about this action was that we held it outside the Council meeting. UCL Council meets once a term to kind of discuss all the business things that happen at UCL. The campaign has waited a year for an ethical review of the investments at UCL—which is completely ridiculous—and these were the Council members going into the council room, going in to the meeting.
Why did you turn to this kind of protest?
Students—actually everyone campaigning for change—have been completely ignored by management, and we're just getting really frustrated. For example, DeAnne Julius is the president of council, she's the former Chief Economist for Shell and worked for BP during the cover up of the deep horizon oil spill, and these are the chief decision makers at UCL. It's kind of like—how do students stand a chance of safeguarding their future against climate change if these are the people in charge of our big decisions and investments? So we're basically having to do this to open up new channels of communication with management because they're not engaging in such an important issue.
They said they would hold and ethical investment review committee but it hasn't happened for the best part of a year and we're kind of getting ignored and snubbed by management. So this was kind of to say, "You might be ignoring us and not being efficient on this, but we're not going away."
And like you said, the point here is climate change, right?
Yeah. The fossil fuel industry currently holds vast carbon reserves. In order to have a chance of staying below 2 degrees of warming, up to 80 percent of their reserves must not be burnt. All the evidence suggests that they intend to burn the reserves within their control. Companies such as Shell are also actively trying to discover new reserves, often in environmentally sensitive regions. So their business plan and a livable planet are incompatible.
Do you think you're making progress towards forcing UCL to divest?
Well, they don't really have a leg to stand on in the case of divestment, because investments in the fossil fuel industry completely contradict what is written in their ethical investment review guidelines, and also it goes against all the research UCL are doing in sustainability and climate change.
Any future actions planned?
Yes, we're now escalating our campaign until management takes action.
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