Divestment activists lock themselves to Old College gates as occupation continues

Divestment activists locked themselves to the front gates of The University of Edinburgh’s Old College this afternoon, in the latest public demonstration against the University’s current fossil fuel investment policy.

Three activists from the Edinburgh branch of People & Planet affixed bicycle locks around their necks and through the bars of the building’s main gate, under a sign reading Edinburgh Uni Fossil Free. The trio blanketed themselves in a hand painted banner calling for full divestment, spending two hours interacting with passersby as University security members kept watch.

The move came as People & Planet’s occupation of the Charles Stewart building entered its fourth day. Despite rallies, demonstrations, several national news articles and support from local politicians, the University’s response has been muted, activists say, prompting a desire for greater action.

“At the moment we’ve had no response from management pretty much,” Ellie Jones, a spokesperson for the group who participated in the demonstration, told The Student. “So we really needed something where they can’t ignore it and we thought this would be something that would get their attention.”

Chief among the protesters’ demands is a commitment by the University to fully divest from companies involved in fossil fuels, a move the protesters argue would send a symbolic message in the face of climate change. Pressure from activists and a subsequent ten-day occupation last spring helped secure a commitment to withdraw investments “where alternative energy sources were available,” and spurred the withdrawal of several multi-million pound investments in leading oil companies such as Rio Tinto and Royal Dutch Shell.

But activists argue the efforts have not been extensive enough, and have pointed to two companies still in the University’s portfolio, Apache Incorporated and EOG Resources, as targets for further divestment. Even as the University has withdrawn funds from Shell and other companies, it has increased investments in Apache and EOG, according to figures acquired by Freedom of Information and reviewed by The Student.

The protesters  have also called for greater transparency and stronger advertisement by the University of the divestments it has already made, such as its commitment in September to divesting from all companies with investments or ties to arms production.

Speaking on the locking demonstration, Jones said that the decision was made in an effort to add diversity and grab attention.

“I think changing tactics a bit is quite a good thing, because obviously we’ve done an occupation before,” she told The Student. “We’ve done things like pickets and actions, but we’ve never done this before. So I think using lots of different kind of tactics is probably something that would make them a little bit more wary about it.”

Emma Scott, a first year member of People & Planet who also chained herself to the gate, said the demonstration elicited a positive response in general.

“A lot of the general public really seemed to get involved,” she told The Student. “There was a lot of support for it as well, especially from other people.”

Jones agreed. “The security seemed to be very much on edge,” she said. “But the response from the public was really good. Normally when you’re flying you have to force it on people, but this time people were asking for flyers. It was really good and really supportive.”

In a statement responding to Thursday’s demonstration, the University acknowledged the incident and said that it valued the safety of its students.

“We are aware of the incident,” the statement read. “The safety of our staff and students is of the utmost importance. The University supports the right of all students to protest lawfully and peacefully.”

It continued: “In line with our responsible investment policy, which was formulated in consultation with staff and students, we do not invest in companies involved in the highest carbon-emitting industries.”

“We are committed to using our finances to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.”

Image: Jacob Forsyth-Davies

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4 Responses

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  1. AJ
    Apr 07, 2016 - 08:31 PM

    The University of Edinburgh, and other universities like it, place students in jobs in industries that directly or indirectly depend on fossil fuels. And our entire way of life depends, in large part, on fossil fuels. Whether the world needs to move away from them or not is entirely besides the point that every single job, and everything we take for granted, is a product of fossil fuels. If we want to move forward the way to do is to recognize this reality and apply common sense.

    And what is not common sense is the idea of a divestment campaign. All divesting does is create a market opportunity for another investor. Divestment campaigns basically hamstring the university’s investors: invest here, and not there is a decision that should only be made based on what is likely to result in a profitable investment. If you care about making money you have to leave your emotions at the door, especially since emotional reasoning is likely to be highly biased (i.e., not based on factual analysis).

    This is not the right approach. At all. If you want to change the world then what you should be doing is encouraging universities to invest in and focus research on real solutions (and many do, btw). The approach is not to hamstring their ability to invest successfully and thus have fewer resources to recruit top students and provide top research facilities.

    • Aryt Alasti
      Apr 11, 2016 - 12:14 PM

      The fact of the matter is that fossil-fuel companies persist with business plans which very specifically are predicated on presumptions about a ruinous future caused by their products. Rather than dedicating themselves to being full partners with civilization in finding profitable means of transitioning to fuels which will permit minimization of such harms, they are still operating, funding and lobbying in the opposite direction.

      Divestment makes a moral statement, that this is beyond reprehensible. Having produced product which has caused climatic catastrophe – profiting without paying anything for such harms – these companies have an ethical obligation to very actively pursue solutions.

      It’s irrelevant as to who buys divested stocks; the point is that institutions, funds and stakeholders who represent themselves as moral actors must not be profiting from destruction of planetary habitability. This message is coming across loud and clear to those who have clear-minded cognizance of who are the world’s willful perpetrators with climatic culpability. The more so the reality of our situation seizes the consciousness of our citizenry, the sooner we will see the governmental action necessary for effective policy toward amelioration. That is what divestment is about. Of course there are emotions involved.

    • bevis ans clara longstreth
      Apr 11, 2016 - 12:40 PM

      What you are doing is more important than I believe any of you or the rest of us favoring divestment realize. The task is to awake the world from its slumber over fossil fuel. The longer you can last, and the more dramatic your demonstrations, the farther your reach into the minds of those who slumber. I ever there was an occasion ripe for civil disobedience, since the time of Antigone, the climate change catastrophe is the one. Keep up your inspiring work. From an 82 year old admirer, Bevis Longstreth



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