To be totally honest, I was not entirely looking forward to giving up my super-sunny-27-degree Saturday to sit in a conference hall in central London when all I wanted to do was lie like a starfish in Tooting Bec Lido.
But I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of an event so motivated, impressed and informed.
Because my Saturday was spent at the Fossil Fuel Divestment: Building the Movement event, at the Friend’s Meeting House in Euston, listening to some of the most influential and inspiring people at the forefront of the divest movement.
The day started with an introduction made up of speeches from 350.org, Carbon Tracker, Fossil Free Bristol and The Guardian. There was also Dan Goss, the founder of the Warwick University student divestment campaign which recently succeeded in getting the uni to divest from fossil fuels.
Carbon Tracker’s Luke Sussams ran through a detailed presentation full of graphs showing plenty of data which proved that divestment is the only financially sound option in the long-term, and that investors are just being fed lies by the oil companies preventing them from investing in green energy. It is becoming more and more expensive to get oil out of the ground, so it is no longer a sound investment. Simultaneously, the cost of renewable energy is becoming less and less expensive. Do the math.
Moreover, only one third of proven oil and gas reserves can be burnt to keep global warming below a 2 degree rise. Left to their own devices, these fuel companies will burn the lot.
I learnt that it is through cold hard financial fact, not appealing to moral conscience, that we will win the divestment battle. It is a scientific and financial approach that will triumph, not a heart-felt one. Because these transnationals do not feel, they do not have a heart.
“People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“We need to make [the oil and gas companies] the public enemy that they are” – Danielle Paffard, 350.org
“These energy companies hold humanity’s future in their pockets. But where we put out money makes us all complicit” – The Guardian
The final speech of the morning was from Wolfgang Blau of The Guardian (seriously strong name game) in which he started saying, “we have to break these companies..” then, spookily, the lights cut out in the theatre and the electricity was lost for a few seconds. At which point the camera crew shout, “you must be saying something right!”
Then we had a vegetarian lunch out in the courtyard, which I am sad to point out, was sandwiches and cake wrapped in throw-away plastic. You’d have thought at a climate change event, they could have at least ensured the lunch was eco-friendly…
We could choose from a number of different lectures and workshops for the second half of the day. I chose ‘Storytelling: lessons and stories from across the movement from the people that were there at the time’ where I heard some amazing stories from the student divest movements at The University of Edinburgh (Eleanor Dow) and Harvard University (Kelsey Skaggs).
Eleanor told of the 20+ students, led by herself, who occupied the finance building at Edinburgh Uni for 10 days, which resulted in divestment from fossil fuels and a press release jointly written by both the management and the students involved.
Kelsey told of how Harvard have been a little harder to overcome, but, now that Stanford have divested, it’s only a matter of time…
We also heard from Jess Worth of ‘BP or not BP‘. She was my ultimate fave. She calls herself an ‘actorvist’; she and others create acting performances to protest against BP’s sponsorship of British art and culture. Something I didn’t even realise was a thing. Apparently, they are the single largest sponsor of art and culture worldwide, which is terrifying. BP is one of the world’s worst criminals and so these partnerships are simply facilitating the harbouring of a criminal.
Which is precisely why BP or not BP do things such as raid the stage at RSC’s Shakespeare performances and inform the audience of its rouge sponsor through means of adapting quotes from the play at hand. Pure Genius.
Their new target is the British Museum, and so recently, they smuggled a viking ship costume (by using the fabric as skirts!) and BP logo shields into the building (despite the museum having caught wind and security being on high alert!) before performing a viking burial in front of hundreds of curious spectators…
For my last hour, I chose a workshop on Action Planning which was hosted by Jess Worth again and Mel Evans, who work together for the Art Not Oil Coalition, but separately for BP or not BP and Liberate Tate (which uses the art medium to protest within the Tate Gallery). In the past, Liberate Tate have conducted missions such as ‘The Gift‘ in which they brought an entire wind turbine prop into the Turbine Hall, piece by piece, because technically everyone and anyone is entitled to present something to the Tate as an artistic gift and it has to be considered. Again, genius.
So the two phenomenal women shared their check-list for protest-planning success with us, so that we can build the movement:
- What is the aim? Why are you doing this?
- Key messages – what is the story you want to tell? Which characters are involved? No mixed messages!
- Tactics – what form/style will the action take?
- Planning and recruitment – who is going to play each role? Use your initial action to recruit for your next action. i.e. “if you’ve enjoyed this performance and want to get involved, then sign up here!
- Make it look good! (visuals, rehearsals, amplification – make sure the audience can here you!)
- Media coverage – it is always worth writing a Press Release even if it’s quite a small event. Ring up the newspaper you’ve sent the PR to, to make sure they pay attention to it. This is a time-consuming process but it’ll pay off!
- Social media and photography – live tweeting with photos is a huge advantage!
- Promotion – build alliances with other campaign groups so the message is circulated and create flyers to give out beforehand and during.
- Security – could you be arrested? Quick decision making plans need to be thought of beforehand in preparation for sticky situations. It might be worth having a legal observer on hand. See Green and Black Cross for more info.
So essentially, we need to cut the oil and gas companies off at the source – starting with us, as individuals, divesting our money. First off watch Bill McKibben’s ‘Do The Math‘ (I watched it last night and sobbed my little heart out afterwards because I felt so scared and overwhelmed) it is only 45 minutes long, and I can guarantee it will have been the best 45 minutes you have ever spent. Then ask yourself these two questions:
- Do you know where your bank reinvests your money? If not, check Move Your Money.
- Do you know where your pension is being invested? If not, check Share Action.