Protests from students, staff and alumni as Energy Minister Ed Davey attends opening ceremony
Today Oxford University launched a new research partnership with Shell, and opened the Shell Geoscience Laboratory. The ceremony was attended by Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Alison Goligher, Shell’s Executive Vice-President for Unconventionals.
The partnership with the Earth Sciences Department has drawn criticism from alumni, staff and students in a letter published in today’s Guardian. There are over 75 signatories (with more continuing to come in) including prominent environmentalists Jonathon Porritt, George Monbiot and Jeremy Leggett, Emeritus Fellow of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute Brenda Boardman, and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Rachel Stancliffe. Last night, Oxford University Students’ Union passed an emergency motion to ‘formally oppose’ the partnership.
About 50 Oxford students, alumni, staff and residents protested outside the opening ceremony (see video), supported by several national human rights and environmental groups (see below). They held their own futuristic ‘closing ceremony’ – a tongue-in-cheek piece of street theatre set in 2018 which celebrated the closure of the ill-fated and unpopular Shell-funded geosciences laboratory after 5 years of criticism. The crowd heard pologetic speeches from ‘the Vice-Chancellor’, ‘Shell’ (including a direct apology to Paula the polar bear who was among the protesters) and ‘ex-Secretary of State Ed Davey’. This was followed by various creative chants such “We’re united in defiance, get the Shell out of our science”, “Oxford Uni funding fail, Shell’s just in it for the shale” and “Oxford Uni, please dump Shell. If you don’t we’ll raise hell!”
Later today two people were dragged out of Oxford’s St Edmund Hall, where the Earth Sciences department members were having dinner with Shell and the Vice-Chancellor, to celebrate their controversial new partnership. One of them started to calmly and politely explain why the partnership is receiving so much criticism, but was dragged out by the college porters. Film below.
The concerns about this partnership are wide-ranging. Shell is seen by many as an inappropriate choice of partner for Oxford University due to its enormous contribution to climate change. The new partnership includes research on, amongst other things, the location and properties of black shale – a type of rock rich in oil and gas. Whatever the scientific merits of this work, it will be of great assistance to Shell in locating and extracting more fossil fuels at a time of climate emergency.
Shell’s research money is also being criticised as an attempt to buy legitimacy for its controversial activities globally. These include human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, highly-destructive tar sands extraction which is undermining Indigenous rights in Canada, reckless drilling plans in the Arctic, and controversial gas fracking in South Africa.
Today’s action also marked the beginning of a movement for ‘Fossil Free‘ universities, spearheaded by student network, People & Planet, calling on the higher education sector to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry. Its petition calling on Oxford University to go ‘fossil free’ was signed by nearly 500 students, alumni and others, in less than 24 hours.
We have been getting a lot of interest on this, and some excellent media coverage. The following is what we are aware of. Please let us know in the comments below if you came across of anything else!
Shell funds shale gas research at Oxford University / Extreme Energy Initiative
Partnership between Oxford University and Shell condemned / Public Service Europe
Teddy Hall Earth Sciences dinner crashed / The Cherwell
CNB video report: Shell protest / CherwellTV
Get the SHELL out of Oxford University / People & Planet blog post
Oxford University Earth Sciences take Shell Money / Greenpeace Oxford blog post
Jeremy Leggett, Oxford Earth Sciences alumnus, solar entrepreneur and author, is one of the signatories to today’s Guardian letter. He said:
‘Shell has abandoned all pretence at playing a role in saving civilisation from the ruin of six degree global warming. Universities are increasingly part of the problem too. Most have become complicit seekers of funding, for short-term perceived interests, when a liveable future is at stake for the very students they educate. This union of my alma mater with Shell is a potent symbol of the suicide pact we are all now part of. I have such fond memories of my time in this department. Now I am almost as ashamed of it as I am appalled by Shell’s desperate defence of a deadly status quo, despite everything climate scientists know and warn of.’
Kate Allen, Oxford alumnus, Director of Amnesty International UK and Honorary Fellow of Brasenose College, has also expressed concerns:
“By picking Shell, Oxford University has chosen an odd bedfellow. Amnesty International has consistently highlighted Shell’s poor human rights record in the Niger Delta. Large parts of the region, home to more than 30 million people, have become a polluted wasteland due to the activities of oil companies. Numerous oil spills have left local communities with little option but to drink polluted water, eat contaminated fish, and breathe in air that reeks of oil and gas. Yet Shell has consistently failed to own up to its responsibilities. If Oxford is to continue with this new relationship, the university authorities should exert all the pressure they can to persuade the oil giant to own up, pay up and clean up. Failure to do so will not only let Shell off the hook, but will tarnish the good name of Oxford University and betray the millions of people who live in the Niger Delta.”
Ellen Gibson, a student at Oxford University who was also at the protest, said:
‘Oxford’s own climate scientists are warning us that, if my generation is going to have a stable climate to live in, we need to leave the majority of known fossil fuels in the ground. Yet this new partnership will undertake research to help Shell to find and extract even more hydrocarbons. Our research institutions need the money and the will to develop new knowledge for the good of humanity as a whole. But Ed Davey’s presence suggests that the Government is comfortable that its cuts to research funding are pushing our best universities into bed with the world’s worst companies.’
More information about Shell and this partnership can be found at – peopleandplanet.org/fossil-free/oxford
This protest was supported by: 350.org, Campaign Against Climate Change; Greenpeace UK; Healthy Planet UK ; Medsin UK; Occupy Energy, Equity and Environment Group; People & Planet; Platform; Rising Tide UK; Tar Free Oxford; UK Tar Sands Network; World Development Movement.