Student-led environmentalism is on the rise in the 21st Century. On Tuesday the 24th of October, between 20 and 30 members of our Fossil Free society protested in front of the Barclays branch on Queen’s Road, Bristol. The reason? Divestment. Barclays is Public Enemy #1 for anti-fossil fuel activists right now, and with good reason. Their consistent and inconsiderate investment in the fossil fuel industry – in particular, the viciously corporate Exxon-Mobil – puts them at the forefront of the Divestment campaign. Fossil Free at the University of Bristol has been targeting Barclays directly in an effort not only to raise awareness about the University’s own investment with the bank, but also to advocate for an end to Barclays’ unethical business practises altogether.
I spoke to society president Papatya O’Reilly to find out more: ‘It’s imperative that Barclay’s stop funding fossil fuels. They’ve consistently been on the wrong side of history – pro- apartheid, now this? – and it’s doing their public image no favours.’ And the protest doesn’t stop with Bristol. Tuesday the 24th was no coincidence: the Fossil Free society’s protest coincided with a 3-day #DivestTheGlobe protest fronted by the indigenous community-lead Mazaska Talks divestment campaign. ‘It’s the indigenous peoples who are at the front lines of the struggle against the fossil fuel industry, and it’s our duty as a Fossil Free society to show solidarity with them’, O’Reilly says. In my short time at Fossil Free, I have come to see that it is this sense of universality, transcending the boundaries of continent and language, that is what makes the growing movement so unique and powerful.
The atmosphere on Tuesday was a perfect example of this: a small group united in the face of a single cause, fighting against the Barclays security cameras (and, at some points, the weather) to bring a message to the people: that supporting the fossil fuel industry is something the young people of today will simply no longer tolerate. The atmosphere was one of open-minded friendliness and pure joy – from the colourful banners held up by smiling students, to the rousing chorus of ‘No more coal/No more oil/Keep your carbon in the soil!’, this was a movement bursting with vitality.
Nor can the Bristol public be said to have been anything close to apathetic. Members of the public were encouraged to add their thoughts to the protest, writing their thoughts and fears for the future of fossil fuels on post-it notes that were then applied to a huge ‘message to Barclays’ . Members of the society proceeded to post the letter through Barclay’s’ mailbox – just a taste of the kind of direct action this society is willing to participate in. I spoke to Robin Boardman, representative for Fossil Free’s direct action wing, on the value of such protest: ‘For our society the #DivestBarclays movement is a step towards creating a more ethical university – one that not only recognises the threat posed by chaotic climate change, but will actually act to prevent it. This protest is a fantastic first step in raising awareness for the campaign and getting people involved in climate change activism.’
The numbers don’t lie, either: 111 members of the public signed the public petition – addressed to the University of Bristol – promising to, until such time as they see fit to divest their funds from the fossil fuel industry, boycott Barclays in protest. Fossil Free at the University of Bristol represents a fresh face for environmental protest: one that runs on positivity, youthful energy, and a bright, optimistic vision for the future. I can’t wait to see more of what this society has to offer, and I hope you’ll join me for the ride