‘Stop horsing around’: Jesus College climate campaigners on another Cambridge lawn
The Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign staged a die-in in First Court at the University of Cambridge college this afternoon.
During the demonstration, students used the iconic Bronze Horse sculpture by Barry Flanagan as a prop, beside which protesters wore blood-stained horse masks representing the damage that the College’s perceived slowness to divest and set net zero targets is doing to the natural world and the communities already suffering from climate change.
Placards were emblazoned with messages including “Stop horsing around”, “What would Jesus do? Divest, obviously”, “Say neigh to fossil fuels” and the iconic . “Fellows against climate change”. The red paint on the protestors’ hands represented the blood of “150,000 lives lost every year as a direct result of the climate crisis, particularly in the global south”.
The campaigners are urging Jesus College to divest fully from all indirect investments in fossil fuel companies, the arms industry, companies involved in biodiversity destruction, intensive animal agriculture and “other ecocidal industries” by the end of 2021. They further call on the college to commit publicly to achieving net-zero emissions by 2030. The University of Cambridge earlier this month outlined a roadmap which would see divestment “from all meaningful exposure in fossil fuels by 2030” and “net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its entire investment portfolio by 2038”.
The group is urging Jesus College to commit to divesting too, and on a much shorter time-scale “to reflect the true urgency of the crisis, Jesus’ smaller size and its historic responsibility as a wealthy institution in one of the countries which has contributed most heavily to global emissions”. The college is understood to have an endowment with an approximate value of £300m, with an undisclosed proportion invested in polluting companies.
James, a current undergraduate student at Jesus College, says: “We are grateful for college management’s engagement on this issue so far. The bursar in particular has made a big effort to canvass student opinion and participate in an open dialogue, especially through the drop-in sessions for students which he held last year.
“Jesus Climate Justice Campaign have staged this demonstration not because we do not appreciate the work college is doing, but because we felt that Jesus College, like governments and institutions everywhere, is still failing to treat the climate crisis as the existential emergency that it is. There must be a radical tone-shift in the way institutions address sustainability concerns. Distant targets and vague commitments will not be sufficient to meet the deadlines which UN scientists tell us are essential for averting runaway climate breakdown.”
Sarah, also a student at Jesus College says: “I am here today because the climate emergency is the defining issue of our times , and with every new report and research paper, it becomes clearer that the situation is worse than previously thought. Tipping points - when climate change becomes irreversible and accelerates - are likely to be closer than we think, demanding an urgent change in the way we approach the world.”
“We cannot stand by with these things happening and blame others for it when we haven’t made the changes within our power - for Jesus College, that is to vote to fully divest all its investments in fossil fuels, and to make a firm commitment for net-zero carbon emissions. Divesting will also protect the trustees of the college from the risk and volatility associated with the fall in these investments’ value as fossil fuels become stranded assets and are replaced with alternative methods of energy.”
Another student said: “Studying at Jesus has taught me the importance of freedom of speech, evidence-based inquiry, and free, transparent debate on important issues. We are grateful that Jesus is an environment in which we know that these values are cherished and encouraged, and that we are able to demonstrate peacefully as a result. It is in this spirit that we made our voices heard today.”
The action comes after years of student campaigning on this issue, with the Jesus College Students Union voting through two separate motions supporting full divestment in recent years, as well as a motion calling for the college to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2030.
The group also “notes” that Christ’s College has announced a commitment to full divestment from the fossil fuel industry by 2030, despite having rejected a similar proposal in November 2018. The move follows three years of student-led campaigning with broad support from college members - though the Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign appears none too impressed .
“Inexplicably, they opted for a 10-year timeline to accomplish this. The process of divestment simply does not require 10 years to complete, particularly in Jesus’ case. This commitment is totally incompatible with the scale of the crisis, the straightforward logistical process involved in divesting, and the College’s responsibilities to communities suffering on the front lines.”