Extinction Rebellion stages mass picnic and tent occupation on King’s College lawns in Cambridge
Climate activists have staged a mass picnic on King’s College lawns - and some vowed to try to stay in tents on site all night in protest at the University of Cambridge’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.
The group, led by Extinction Rebellion Cambridge Universities, said it was acting in solidarity with student activists at Oxford University, who occupied St John’s College lawn in Oxford last week.
A spokesperson from XR Cambridge Universities stated: “It’s shameful that the University of Cambridge still won’t cut its ties with fossil fuel companies, even after over half of UK universities have divested, and yet still curates this concerned, ‘green’ image in the public eye.
“The image of this university is as manicured as its lawns, but we will not be placated with tokenistic changes and greenwashing.
“Their responsibility extends much further than letting the odd lawn go fallow, or introducing a group like Cambridge Zero.
“These changes are good, but they are happening at the same time as the university continues to accept funding, professorships and donations from some of the world’s worst polluters - companies such as BP, Shell and Schlumberger.”
The protest - which comes as Storm Ciara rolls in - follows action at the university’s BP Institute, to which activists locked themselves on Friday (February 7), and at oilfield service company Schlumberger’s research facility on West Cambridge, where activists blockaded the entrance on January 24.
The protesters held up signs such as ‘Cambridge: would you care if it was your lawn burning?’ next to images of the destruction of the Niger Delta.
An anonymous spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion said the protest location was chosen because “it is a quintessential view of the university and is known as an image of this powerful and famous institution”, which has yet to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
“If breaking one of their archaic rules and getting in the way of their public image is what we have to do to get them to hear us, then we must do that because people have been campaigning for this for years and here we still are,” said the spokesperson.
“Meanwhile, climate disasters and extractivism are claiming the lives of more and more people in the Global South, and emissions keep rising. There is no time left. We must act now, loudly, to make sure that powerful institutions hear us.”
XR is also planning to protest in front of Senate House on King’s Parade on Saturday February 15, from 1-5pm, with an “interactive installation to attract attention and engage the public”.
King’s College has confirmed that it will be turning some of its previously manicured chapel lawn into a wildflower meadow this year.
The University of Cambridge has adopted science-based targets for carbon reduction and pledged to reduce its emissions to zero by 2048, while aspiring to be a decade ahead of its decarbonisation pathway, meaning it hopes to achieve zero carbon status by 2038.
Its Cambridge Zero initiative aims to harness the university’s research and policy expertise to help drive solutions for the zero carbon society of the future.
The university has been contacted for comment on the King’s protest.
In relation to the protest at the BP Institute on Friday, a university spokesperson said: “The University of Cambridge respects the right to protest and free speech, but condemns without hesitation any damage to its buildings, such as that done to the BP Institute by activists on Friday.
“Much of the work done at the BP Institute is related to mitigating the impacts of climate change, including the design of more energy efficient buildings and carbon sequestration. Other research being done at the BP Institute includes work on understanding how diseases spread in hospitals, the processes threatening polar ice sheets and the movement of avalanches.”
XR Cambridge and XR Youth Cambridge say if their three demands are not met they will hold a week-long protest called Rebel for Justice, from February 16-23, during which its roadblocks aim to bring the city to a halt.
“The University of Cambridge must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Cambridge City Council must hold a citizens’ assembly on climate justice, and Cambridgeshire County Council must work with other relevant regional authorities to provide a plan for a just transition away from an inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels,” said a spokesperson.
A roadblocks is expected on Fen Causeway, with two on Trumpington Road.
More by this authorPaul Brackley