By Chris Saltmarsh
The combined cinematography and soundtrack of Demain (Tomorrow) were genuinely excellent, and were skilfully deployed by the filmmakers as part of the argument – or mission – of their project. Taking the viewer on a journey around the world, documenting projects, rooted in local communities, offering alternatives to the systems that have gotten us into the many messes we are currently trying to navigate: climate change, financial crises, poverty and inequality, health, and beyond. The mission was to visit and relay the many examples of the diversity of people taking it upon themselves to create their own alternative ways of organising their food, economies, education, energy and democracy to inspire viewers to do something themselves. Indeed, most people watching the film with us as part of Go Green Week 2017 were inspired because the film’s optimism-inducing audio-visuals, artistically accompanying the presentation of a string of supposedly exciting local projects collectively fed into a climactic sense of unfettered possibility. But despite the room of inspired smiling faces, the film left me angry and frustrated.
Some of the solutions documented were not fundamentally objectionable themselves; these ranged from permaculture and guerrilla gardening, to local currencies and renewable energy. However, others were more problematic. The film’s endorsement of slave labour (prisoners working for free – sorry, for ‘skills’ – manufacturing solar panels) was especially jarring. Additionally, devoting the entire ‘education’ section to glorifying Finland’s state education system; fetishising small business; and pining for Athenian ‘democracy’ did not sit comfortably. Especially so as none of the solutions proposed were subject to any critical interrogation, with none of the inevitable contradictions exposed or discussed. But all of these examples were uncomfortably transplanted into the films simplistic narrative that lots of things are happening in local communities, more need to happen, and you can do it. Many have praised the film’s optimism and inspiration to its viewers, but it felt as though its commitment to that mission trumped any critical discussion of what a coherent, holistic alternative would look like.
Indeed, the film lacked a rigorous politics or even an argument. My overarching frustration came from the disconnect between the globally growing plethora of local projects and the general worsening of our collective situation: runaway climate change, rising neo-fascism, strengthening borders, widening inequalities to name a few. If, as the film suggests, more local alternative projects (started by you, the viewer!) means an improving situation, why are things still getting worse? This gaping inconsistency was not addressed. It is important to recognise that, in places like Detroit where water is contaminated and it is almost impossible to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, guerrilla gardening is of huge significance to the sustenance of communities there. However, to valorise these ‘solutions’ as enough is to ignore that they do not address the root causes of the violences experienced by the people of Detroit. Local currencies do not and have not challenged the power of multinationals. Small businesses are not a vehicle to end capitalism. As fine as these things are, the film lacked a politics of how to connect them to a bigger struggle to transform the way our society, politics, and economics work. We won’t create a global alternative to capitalism by ignoring it, because it’s too powerful and dynamic. Without a cogent analysis of who has power; how, where, and why they wield it; and how we can take it from them, films like Tomorrow will only ever leave audiences with a fleeting feeling of inspiration, never channelled into productive struggle for a long-lasting world beyond capitalism of climate and social justice and collective liberation.
By Chris Saltmarsh
When it comes to the future, we often swim in an ocean of frightening news and predictions trying to make us painfully aware of what humanity has done to the planet. Instead of awakening our collective consciousness and helping us mobilise, the most predominant narrative of our day-to-day conversations, the media and, to an extent, the arts, tends to leave us feeling guilty, hopeless, helpless, or, even worse, desensitize us all together.
Against this bleak background, Demain (2015) emerges as a potent ball of light, drawing from stories of people around the world, from all walks of life, who have successfully tackled social, economic and environmental issues in their communities.
After clearly explaining the scale and urgency of the interwoven challenges that we face globally, Demain (2015) documents the process behind these successful examples, completing the first pages of what I would call A Manual for Saving Life on Earth. The people behind these projects share not only their motives, but also techniques and principles, most often, in enough detail to empower the viewer to replicate the initiative in their own community. This is how I have learned what makes an effective permaculture garden and how, after getting the money needed for investment, of course, it benefits both the environment and the profits.
While keeping the focus on the power of ordinary citizens, this documentary also includes examples of politicians and big businesses who have implemented renewable energy systems. Seeing how they not only encourage the green conscience of citizens but actually put their money where their mouth is, even to the extent of stating that “when nations fail apparently citizens have to take over” may come as a pleasant surprise to someone like me who has long lost trust in state institutions and CEOs.
Another aspect that touched me was the soundtrack. Serene and positive, yet powerful and motivating, it matches the overall ambience of the film and aids in the smooth transition between the chapters and places that we’re invited to experience within these two hours. Out of its five themes (food, energy, economy, democracy and education) education stood out to me. As somebody with a BA in Psychology and a strong interest in early life stress and its effects, I applaud the example of alternative education system used in this film. I believe that it is especially powerful as it considers the importance of play, attachment and multifaceted support in early years, without which we would be ignoring the healthy development of the entire society.
When talking about democracy, capitalism is quickly mentioned in the context of Iceland’s fight against corruption, though there are no suggestions for an alternative to capitalism upon acknowledging of the Icelandic citizens’ failed reform attempts. In regards to economy, I was excited to learn about alternative currencies currently in use and how communities self-organise and become less dependent on the state, though those living below the poverty line were ignored.
Despite these last two points, I highly encourage you to go and watch this film and see why humanity is not doomed to drown in resignation, disappointment and alienation, and let yourself inspired by what we can achieve when we care about people and the planet.
By Raluca de Soleil
By Ruby Lee
Let’s start with a little background info…
In South Wales near the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Miller Argent – a mining company – plan to create a second open-cast coal mine at Nant Llesg, right next to their existing one, Ffos-yy-fran. We needed to fight against the construction of this proposed new coal mine, but this was part of the greater fight against the dirty fossil fuel industry. And so, the “End Coal Now” action camp was set up by Reclaim the Power to support the amazing work already done by the United Valleys Action Group against Miller Argent. This was to be the first action of the 2016 Break Free movement: two weeks of actions across the world to end coal.
So far, 5 million tonnes of coal have been extracted from Ffosy-fran, with the end total on course to be 11 million tonnes. But this is not enough for Miller Argent, who want to create another open-cast coal mine in Nant Llesg, right next door to Ffos-y-fran, with the aim to excavate 6 million additional tonnes. The company supplies coal to a coal-fired power station in South Wales called Aberthaw Power Station. Miller Argent are still pushing for the expansion even though Aberthaw are going to be reducing their consumption of coal as they are pushed to turn to biomass as part of the governments renewable energy obligation (even though we know biofuels don’t really count as true renewable energy!). So why are Miller Argent looking for more coal when they will have nowhere to sell most of it to? Its only concern is growth regardless of the devastation it will cause to the environment and landscape. We know that 80% of known fossil fuels needed to stay in the ground to keep global average temperature rises below the catastrophic 2oC increase. How can this be possible when we continue to extract and burn more of the dirtiest fossil fuels?
The adventure begins…
So on the 30th of March a contingent from People & Planet Sheffield set off to South Wales, with a few more P&Pers to meet us on the Monday. For most of us this was our first proper action camp, for others it was their first mass direct action! When we arrived we were greeted by the skeleton of what was soon to become home to almost 400 people for few days. But as we were all members of the crew, it was going to be a joint effort to set it up and make it magnificent. First we ate lunch provided for us by Veggies who catered for us the whole week; a vegan non-profit catering company from Nottingham that support many animals rights and environmental campaigns, and who’s food is INCREDIBLE (the best vegan cakes EVER too!). And then it was all hands on deck as everyone got to work putting up our wind turbine, making the compost toilets, gathering firewood and putting up marquees. Within a few hours, the empty field surrounded by slag heaps from the neighbouring mine, was up and running and buzzing with life as more and more people began to arrive and get involved. That evening was our first meeting of many to follow. There were one or two a day, all following the structure of consensus decision making.
From then on the weekend was filled with workshops and performances from groups including Biofuels Watch, The Coal Action Network, Grow Heathrow and Plane Stupid just to name a few. Solidarity Sunday involved coach loads of members of the camp going to the little community hall in the village of Fochriw to meet the locals. This meant we could listen to their experiences of the mine, learn about the history of the area and where they see the future to lead with the possibility of a transition to more green jobs. In how the coach had to make two journeys, and another minibus travelling down later to join, just displays how important and enthusiastic people were in working in solidarity with the local community. Solidarity Sunday didn’t stop there, as later in the evening at camp we were joined by speakers from across the globe to tell us about their own struggles with the fossil fuel industry. Monday consisted of mainly working with our affinity groups to ensure that we were ready to carry out our ‘secret missions’ for the next day. We all also had the necessary direct action training and legal briefing as a precautionary measure so that we were prepared for anything that could happen!
TUESDAY: DAY OF ACTION.
7:30am, we’re off! The 3 blocs split off heading in different directions to enter the coal mine. Dressed head to toe in red boiler suits, being led by a big puppet red dragon, our narrative was clear: the burning of coal as a fossil fuel is a red line for the climate that should not be crossed the planet is to remain liveable and just. We enter the coal mine chanting and singing. Security monitor us but did not attempt to stop us. The activists in arm tubes lying in the track of where the diggers access the mine are met with great praise for being so valiant and having been there since before dawn. Then the first two of the groups meet. We hang banners from the dumper trucks, we climb on top of them, we play games and we dance.
Then when the third bloc is in location, we move further in to the dark pitt of the black coal mine to meet them and bring it to life; full of colour, music, singing and power. Now at the bottom of the mine, the celebration is in full swing. The coal mine that is usually in operation from 6am till 10pm has been halted of all work due to our presence. We showed the patrolling security that we had claimed this space and that we were stronger than them. How did we show them this? Obviously by playing volley ball with the giant inflatable cubes over a banner that was hung between two giant diggers and playing football and other games while dancing around to music (including the occasional bit of Dolly Parton). Over 300 people were having fun, ecstatic that we had successfully closed down the mine. Even when it started to rain, it didn’t dampen our moods as we all tucked underneath a digger and had a little rave. Squashed and making sure we didn’t bang our heads, we had a “rave under the machine”.
Then came the real visual moment when we made our message clear and all 300+ of us formed a huge red line across the coal mine with our bodies and banners. The incredible drone footage shows the colossal scale of the mine but also the mass strength of us as people standing out against the black scar in the earth and standing up, united against the fossil fuel industry.
From then half the people headed back to camp while the other half stayed around. The police decided to send in around 50 officers, yet luckily no one was arrested. Negotiations were made and everyone left peacefully at around 7 o’clock. The day had been a success: the mine stopped operation for a whole day. There was no way they could start work again now! On returning to the site everyone was greeted with a crowd of people congratulating them and LOTS of hugs were given. So… what else was there to do but to celebrate our victory with a hilarious debrief fuelled by a shared electric energy from everyone on camp (and a bit of alcohol from the bar). The party continued with everyone dancing and jumping around to the sound of anarchic ska-punk band Bolshy!
What did this week teach me?
Living for 5 days in a community where everyone is treated equally, built on the foundations of love and respect, displayed to me that an alternative way to live was possible. It is possible to live in a way that doesn’t encourage individualism through the destructive construct of capitalism. Camps like this, along with the amazing people within them, are a great example of what is possible. It’s also a vibrant hub for education and learning: people want to share their knowledge and feelings and it’s so inclusive! The workshops are interactive but even when you just met some random person over the bonfire at night, you learn so much from their experiences and hear so many inspirational stories. Importantly, this week demonstrated how an individual or a small group of people can be the spark to ignite something huge! UVAG was set up by a few people who wanted to unite South Wales against Miller Argent and their mines and look where it is now! Hundreds of people have joined their fight and if it wasn’t for those few initial people, none of this would have been possible. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE AT UVAG. This mass direct action is an example of how the power is within the hands of the people; we have the power to intimidate and stop these greedy corporations that exploit us, frontline communities, the global south, and the planet. We cannot rely upon our governments to serve us in a way that respects the environment, as we have already seen from their feeble attempt to uphold their promises from the Paris agreements. If they aren’t willing to lead us to a more sustainable future, then WE will lead the way and make THEM follow US. We need to join together to fight for our people and our planet.
UNTIL WE WIN!
In November 2015 the University of Sheffield committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies after 2 years of valiant campaigning by Sheffield People & Planet. Though we celebrated our university joining the global movement to strip the fossil fuel industry of its social license to profit from the climate crisis, this move is not enough – it must only be the beginning.
We decided as a group, by consensus, that Sheffield's Fossil Free campaign should move on to tackle the University's research links with fossil fuel companies. Though we still don't have a full picture of how much money, and from whom, the University receives from the industry to fund research, we know that Shell are donors and the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences are recipients.
We think that ending fossil funded research is an extension of the logic of divestment. Fossil Fuel companies continue to be able to perpetuate and profit from climate change because they are afforded a social license to do so. This means that as a society, we are content with the industry acting as they wish. That social license is consolidated by reputable public institutions, like our University, when they maintain links with the industry whether that's through financial investments or researching on their behalf. We are part of a global movement to challenge the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry, and the University of Sheffield can play an important part in the assault on the industry's legitimacy by severing all ties with it. Just as it removed its financial investments from fossil fuel companies, it must refuse to conduct research on their behalf.
Climate change is a continuation of the historic violences of capitalism and colonialism. It is indicative of the abusive relationship between the Global North and South. As the Global North profits and 'develops', the Global South (and historically colonised indigenous peoples) are left on the front lines of climate change, feeling its most severe effects first and worst. Front line communities and indigenous activists around the world are calling for us to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Climate chaos is already being wreaked and people are already living insecure and precarious lives, but this is the only way we can avoid even more catastrophic climate change. By accepting funding from the very industry that drives climate change, the University of Sheffield is actively contributing to the production of knowledge that will support the industry in their attempts to prolong their ability to profit from fossil fuel extraction for as long as possible. Whether that is by researching 'efficient' methods of extraction, or greenwashing research into 'sustainable energy' that simply seeks to strengthen that increasingly tarnished reputations of fossil fuel barons, fossil-funded research is co2lonialist and cannot be part of a move towards climate justice. The production of co2lonialist, extractivist knowledge is a false solution and it must be opposed.
So the demand of the new campaign is simple. The University of Sheffield must immediately stop accepting any new funding for research from any of the top 200 fossil fuel companies, and must not renew any existing funding after it expires.
Researching on behalf of fossil fuel industries, contributing to the production of co2lonial knowledge is a red line which cannot be crossed in the fight against climate catastrophe. Fossil Free in Sheffield is back, and we're not going away. UNTIL WE WIN!
Please sign our petition to get the University of Sheffield to cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry, including research for funding -
By Chris Saltmarsh
VICTORY !! We did it !! The University of Sheffield has committed to go fossil free !!
On Monday 30th November, the University of Sheffield officially announced that they will divest their £39 million endowment funds from fossil fuels within the next academic year http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/statement-climate-change-fossil-free-investment-keith-burnett-student-union-1.529775 and http://forgetoday.com/press/university-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels/
This announcement occurred at a key time, just before the COP21 Climate Talks in Paris. Through divestment, 19 Universities in the UK sent a clear message to those inside the conference that the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry is unwelcome in the negociations. A fossil free world can - and must - become a reality.
The University of Sheffield going fossil free is an absolutely incredible achievement: the commitment, passion, and resourcefulness of the People & Planet Sheffield group over the past two years and a half - and the amazing support you have all shown – have enabled us all to make a difference in the global movement to tackle climate change. And we even made it to BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-34967316
Thank you to all of you who supported our campaign just over a month ago hitting the uni with your tweets, phone calls and emails. Thank you to the University Executive Board and Finance managers for having responded to our concerns about the University’s investments. Thank you to the 2423 students and staff who took action in Sheffield. And thank you to the 91% of people who voted for divestment in our public Divestment Debate in October. We have made change happen. People power works. And these smiles are not going to come off our faces for a good while now [add the Forge photo]
People & Planet Sheffield’s campaigns are not stopping here. Divestment can only be the beginning of the fight for climate justice. Last week, we joined many other People & Planet groups across the UK and headed to Paris, to make sure our voices were heard by those negociating climate targets and our future in the COP21 conference. The new COP21 climate deals (again) fail to address climate change issues effectively or justly. But the powerful and inspiring actions of all the diverse groups which gathered in Paris showed that the grassroots fight for climate justice is real, and is only going to continue growing in strength and passion – we are taking this into our hands!
Why COP 21 itself was a failure (Huw):
Before we went to Paris, there was already news that the negotiators were talking about a cap of 1.5°C. This may be a noble aim, however without any substance behind it, it was cause for alarm that once again the temperature cap would be the only thing to be agreed on. Furthermore, the voluntary contributions from participating countries were estimated to add to 2.7°C of warming at best, or 3-4°C according to critical commentators. For context, the world has already warmed by 1°C above pre-industrial levels.
By the first evening that we were in Paris, we were informed that all mentions of human rights and indigenous rights had been removed from the COP agreement, thus large powerful states and companies have the freedom to pursue carbon mitigation strategies that push indigenous people off their lands, and means that human casualties of climate change have only limited funds going towards helping them. The indigenous block and global south reported being sidelined in the talks, despite being on the frontlines of climate change and possessing alternative perspectives to the mainstream market approaches to tackling climate change.
Ultimately, the main mechanisms that are supposed to bring us down from the predicted rise are much like the EU emissions trading scheme that has had very little impact other than lining the pockets of the most dirty companies. Furthermore, the deal is not completely legally binding, and the 1.5°C cap is “aspirational” with a real danger of us going above 2°C. If the climate deal was truly one to be respected, then you wouldn’t see the UK government slashing renewable energy subsidies while promoting fracking and increasing fossil fuel subsidies.
Red lines to a just climate solution have been crossed.
D12 was the massive climate action organised by NGOs and other grassroots groups on December 12th 2015. Its aim was to show those within the COP21 negotiations that activists had the last say on supporting ambitious climate justice decisions. That there were red lines that can’t but had been crossed. D12 was about being there to march for these red lines, show them, sing them, dance them, shout them, and re-affirm them.
Our role was to participate in the ‘inflatable cube action.’ These 1.5 by 1.5 meter cubes each had a red line across one of their sides, so when set up side by side and one on top of the other in a coordinated way, the result was a massive inflatable barricade with a very clear red line right across it. A red line that no one could cross (except if you were ready to face the sixty activists guarding these cubes). A red line that represented our determination, hope, and passion for a world where the red lines of climate justice and environmental limits are respected.
At 12pm on the 12th, the time came and in the space of a few minutes, our grand barricade of inflatable cubes took shape with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. The plan was to take advantage of the legalisation of the demonstration to move the cubes across the crowd, and eventually re-gather at the Eiffel Tower by 2pm to join the peaceful demonstration organised there. So we moved with the cubes. We bounced them over the crowd, and then the crowd took over and the cubes were bounced forward, flying over the crowd, bouncing against trees and cars creating the most extraordinary sight. We followed, inflating and patching up the cubes which needed it along the 3km which separated us from the Eiffel Tower. We eventually gathered the cubes in front of the Eiffel Tower and created our grandiose barricade again, asserting that this red line was one that we will stand and fight for.
Decolonizing our movement (Chris S):
Converging on Paris for COP21 with thousands of other climate justice activists was an inspiring and empowering experience in many ways. However, the trip also strengthened our understanding of how our own movement is as deeply infected by colonialism as the COP process itself. The movement is still dominated by white, western, middleclass big green groups to the detriment of those whose voices should be prioritised in the struggle. Indigenous peoples and front line communities have offered the most radical solutions to the climate crisis for decades, and they have been at the forefront of fighting for them. They are, however, consistently ignored and exploited by the mainstream movement. The Indigenous Environmental Network were not listened to in the organisation of the red lines action on D12, and the Wretched of the Earth bloc were silenced at the People's Climate March in London. If we want a movement that is really for climate justice, we must be conscious of how pervasive colonialism is and how deeply ingrained it is in our movement. We must seek to amplify and empower the voices of indigenous peoples and front line communities, not silence and erase them. They must lead our movement in word and action.
Learning from Paris (Isaac):
One of the most special parts of COP21 was how intense it was. That might not sound like a good thing, and it didn’t even feel like a good thing a lot of the time – many of us who went from Sheffield, and presumably many others among the thousands who were there, aren’t the fearless hardcore beat-me-up-I’m-experienced type of activists. Most of us had been to a few demos or protests, but nothing on this scale, nor in these kind of circumstances: so when our prep sessions were largely to do with ‘what to do if you get arrested’ I started thinking “shit, what have I got myself into!?”
So, less-seasoned activists got a little bit scared when facing the full extent of personal risks involved. Why am I trying to say this was a good thing? Because activist groups are generally brilliant at supporting members in engaging with these worries, so we were as a group able to square up against our concerns, realise that measures we could take to minimise risks and know our own comfort zones were actually quite easy to implement, and so feel mentally prepared to take action in the future.
Highlights (Chris B):
The whole trip was a bit of a rollercoaster and there was no shortage of eye-opening, amazing experiences and moments. For me one of the biggest positives was seeing the people in our group be so inspired and empowered to take action in the future. Funnily enough, knowing that for many of us Paris was just the start of the fight for climate justice is the best feeling of all. We had a big group meeting during the evening after the D12 ‘red lines’ action which I won’t ever forget. We had a simple format where we went around the circle one by one and gave one highlight and one challenge from the trip. It was amazing to hear everyone’s thoughts and I wish I could hear it all again. Powerful stuff.
Closing Thoughts (James P):
Although Paris was an incredible adventure, the trip was far greater than the actions that took place in the few days we were there. The energy, inspiration and dedication from all those involved was translated into a something that could be taken away from Paris to all corners of the world. Unity and energy was created within every group and individual involved. The time spent in Paris created a momentum and feeling of a movement which will only grow further and faster.
After the big public divestment debate, we stepped back a little from the fossil free campaign, giving the University finance managers some time to reflect on our colossal success and work out what to do next. We followed up our debate win with a firm deadline for the University to commit to divestment - Friday 27th November.
The public debate was convened in order to allow the University community to air its views, and express any concerns or critiques of the divestment proposal. The event saw an overwhelming majority of support for divestment, with no real counter-arguments surviving the two hour debate. Of over 250 people attending the debate, 91% voted in favour of divestment, 7% voted against and 2% were undecided. The community has been consulted, and it has spoken.
Tomorrow's deadline is significant because, 6 weeks after the debate, it comes after an Investment Group meeting last week, and a Finance Committee meeting today. It also falls right before the UN COP21 summit in Paris which begins on Monday. Released tomorrow, a public announcement of a commitment to divest by the University would have the greatest effect.
The good news is that the finance managers, on the whole, seem to be genuinely working towards holding a fossil fuel free portfolio of investments, and have been liaising with their investment managers, Sarasins & Partners, on how to do this.
The bad news is, they appear to be deliberately keeping this progress quiet. Although they are investigating divestment, they are yet to release any formal commitments, and are not treating the issue of divestment with the urgency it requires. It would seem they are trying to figure out all the details for divestment, before making any kind of commitment. Whilst this is an honourable approach, we have absolute faith that full divestment will be possible and can be implemented quickly. What we need is an urgent public announcement on their intentions to divest.
The Investment Group meeting last week failed to come to any decisive conclusions regarding divestment, and divestment wasn't even on the agenda for today's Finance Committee meeting. After over two years of campaigning, we feel the extreme lack of urgency regarding this decision is deeply inadequate. This issue cannot wait any longer.
We have written to the chief financial officer on several occasions over the past few weeks, and particularly in the last few days, requesting an update on the situation and urging him to push forward for a public commitment. We are still awaiting a reply.
Today, with our patience very thin, we planned to influence the Finance Committee meeting by having some presence outside the meeting room before the meeting started. We began with a short show of banners outside Firth Court before the meeting, and planned to enter the building and lobby the finance committee as it arrived at the meeting room. Instead we were greeted by multiple members of campus security, who locked to doors to Firth Court and prevented us from entering.
Luckily, others were able to get inside through another entrance and managed to get to the meeting room. They were briefly able to question why divestment had been left off the agenda (to which the answer was "I don't know") before being firmly ordered to leave the room and blocked from getting close again.
Our actions, along with the insistence that divestment be discussed by our student representatives at the meeting (the SU President and SU Development Officer), has reminded managers that we are still here, still waiting, and getting ever more frustrated by their delays. We have heard that Bob Rabone, the chief financial officer, hopes to speak with the Vice Chancellor tomorrow at a University Council meeting about the timetable for making a public commitment. However, we still await information and dialogue from the finance officer, and continue to see their actions as delaying tactics. We await any news with baited breath.
The message we hear from the University continues to be relative silence, with no clear signs of a public commitment to divestment. Our message to the University is that they must make clear their intentions, they must publicly announce a commitment to divest, and they must do this immediately. With all eyes on Paris, now is precisely the right time to make that announcement. This cannot wait.
New member Christine Thuring gives a quick round-up of the long anticipated public debate on divestment, hosted by the University.
Two years of campaigning by People and Planet at the University of Sheffield came to fruition on October 14th in the form of a stirring public debate. Hosted in the new Diamond building, the event drew a diverse audience comprising staff, faculty and students as well as members of the public and campaigners from various interest groups (Greenpeace, Sheffield Against Fracking, Sheffield Climate Alliance, etc.). The event sold out at its 400-ticket capacity.
Introduced by the Pro-VC for research and innovation, Prof. Richard Jones, and moderated by Prof. Marie Kinsey, joint head of the Department of Journalism, the opposing sides of the debate were genuine and good natured. The pro-divestment camp featured Prof. Fionn Stevenson, head of the School of Architecture, and Liam Hardy, PhD student in Physics and Astronomy and co-founder of the divestment campaign at Sheffield University. The anti-divestment camp featured Prof. Peter Styring, an expert in carbon utilisation, and Ali Aiad, third year chemical engineering student, who came dressed as a Texan oil baron apparently for comic relief.
The pro-divestment arguments seemed better-prepared than their opponents, and the proponents were clearly far more passionate about the issue. Whereas Liam could claim to have personally combed through the University’s investments portfolio and expressed confidence in his calculations that the total £40m of investments could fund a wind-farm large enough to power the University and reap dividends in a matter of years, his counterparts appeared limited by lacking imagination, antiquated viewpoints, and distractions using incorrect presumptions (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa and other remote rural communities don’t want more diesel generators, they want off-the-grid, renewable solutions!).
At the end, the audience was asked to participate in a vote on the question of divestment. The announcement that 91% of attendees had in favour of divestment brought a tremendous roar of approval from the audience, with both anti-divestment panellists honourably admitting defeat. 7% voted against divestment and only 2% were left unconvinced by either side. Prof. Richard Jones finished the event with an explanation of what happens next, including where the final decisions will be made. We look forward to hearing what the University Council propose to do next.
An audio recording of the debate can be accessed here.
5 Lucky Sheffield People and Planeters recently attended the People and Planet Summer Gathering near Glossop for a weekend of activism, fun and CABBAGE.
We took part in a series of workshops and had the chance to meet and communicate with other fossil free movements are around the country that helped us reflect on our campaign and inspire us to work even harder for full, unconditional divestment. Workshops centred around the existing People and Planet fossil free and sweatshop free campaigns. It became apparent that increasingly universities are deciding to only partially divest, and stop short of full divestment from unethical oil and gas companies. This is a scenario that we wish to avoid at Sheffield if possible, and it is something that we should be aware of over the coming months as we approach the climax of our campaign.
Moreover, there were workshops on oppression and privilege; something we feel we should focus on on a larger level in our own People and Planet community to foster a more welcoming, safer space. In addition, there were media workshops with the Guardian that helped us realize previous mistakes in dealing with the media, and exciting non-violent protest techniques that we feel confident to utilise should the need arise.
Plans for the future of People and Planet were also made:
Much fun was also had, with every evening playing host to a bonfire and diverse activities. These included a disco, a ceilidh and a talent show. Notably the talent show prizes were cabbages which resulted in a weekend of cabbage chanting whenever a positive thing was said or done. We sincerely hope cabbage chanting becomes a staple of the activist scene.
And lastly, today the University of Warwick agreed to unconditionally divest its endowment from fossil fuels in the next 3 years! Having spoken to members of their campaign at the gathering we know this announcement was a serious shock; Warwick had been uncooperative and the campaigners' attitude was pessimistic. This is further proof that divestment is riding on an inevitable tide, and after this fantastic weekend we're readier than ever to make Sheffield grasp this fact aswell.
On Tuesday 21st April, six members of People and Planet met with the Vice Chancellor of Sheffield University, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, to discuss the divestment campaign that People and Planet are currently running. It was held in Firth Court - a building which we are more familiar with the outside of!
After brief, personal introductions from the People and Planet members and a summary of the campaign so far, the Vice Chancellor expressed his appreciation that the society is supporting this global divestment movement. He also voiced his concern about the use of energy in today's society, and the necessity for a move towards a new ‘energy mix’.
Professor Burnett restated that the final decision to stop the University investing in fossil fuel companies is not solely his to make, and emphasised the need for him to listen to all the communities within the University, including those members of staff who might feel divestment would impact negatively on their position within the institution. In order to facilitate this, a debate organised by Richard Jones has been suggested by the Vice Chancellor, aimed at encouraging discussion from all communities within the University environment.
Regarding the practicalities of the University’s investments, it seemed clear to all members of the discussion that creating a fossil free fund for the University to use would not be terribly difficult. The finance committee - who will ultimately be charged with the decision of divestment - are all too aware of this. People and Planet have now begun focusing on starting a dialogue with potentially opposed staff members. The potential for damage to research projects connected with petrochemical companies was also speculated, however after considering Glasgow University's confident statement reassuring their researchers, it arguably became redundant. Of course, comparing the divestment effects in Glasgow can only suggest that the University of Sheffield will share a similar experience, but the presence of research projects that Shell still share at Glasgow advise that this is a sensible assumption. Hopefully this is a matter that could be discussed and resolved in the upcoming debate.
Alongside the climate change arguments for divestment, the moral and ethical aspects of the fossil fuel companies were discussed. The despicable behaviour of some companies, with the support of governments was briefly mentioned as an obvious reason not to be supporting this industry, although Professor Burnett was careful to consider the opinions of those students and staff who may seek a career in fossil fuel companies. While supportive in principle, as Vice Chancellor of the University he was resolute in taking into account the views of all members of the University.
As the meeting came to a close, it was proposed that People and Planet strive to gain more feedback from a wider range of audiences, within the University, and externally. A public statement of support was asked of the Vice Chancellor, which he rejected on the grounds of his official positions. However, Sir Keith did offer to contact Jeremy Grantham, and Lord Stern about the case for divestment from fossil fuels at the University of Sheffield, both of whom would have valuable opinions, and both of whom it would be hard for People and Planet to communicate with otherwise. All in all the meeting was progressive for the divestment campaign, and we look forward to taking the discussed actions forward! Alongside these developments, People and Planet will be continuing actions around the University and city centre until we have reached our target of getting the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Get in touch with us if you’d like to join in at firstname.lastname@example.org.