This week, Cambridge opened our campus wide open for BP to recruit its future engineers and managers. And it was not a single petty event; BP organised a full day recruitment programme at the Department of Chemistry on Monday, and a recruitment reception on Tuesday evening at Clare College. The latter included “BP student brand ambassadors” who were paid a bonus if they brought along sufficient fellow students or directed enough students to the BP website.
Cambridge benefits from the destruction of the planet not only through its investments, but also through its research and recruitment partnerships with the fossil fuel industry. The University and its colleges should stop legitimising Shell, BP and other oil giant companies, and not allow the fossil fuel industry to recruit on campus. The University’s complicity is appalling in a time when the climate crisis is spiralling out of control.
In 2019 alone, Cyclone Idai has ravaged southern Africa, wildfires have devastated indigenous lands in the Amazon and destroyed swathes of untouched ecosystems in Siberia. Hurricane Dorian stalled over the Bahamas reducing half of the archipelago to rubble, and currently Japan is suffering one of its worst cyclones. Thousands of lives have been lost, millions of people have been displaced, and millions of livelihoods have been destroyed – all while Cambridge continues its romance with the fossil fuel industry.
Our poorest and most marginalised communities suffer the worst consequences of a climate crisis produced by a neoliberal, capitalist system that serves only a small elite, concentrated in the Global North. This elite includes our University. This is the climate injustice.
These inequalities and injustices did not, however, start with climate change, they started long ago. The same communities and lands that are sacrificed today under climate injustice, have suffered for 500 years under colonialism.
BP’s history is indissociable from the British Empire’s colonial history of global oppression, exploitation and dispossession. BP was first founded as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1908 to exploit the oil resources of the Middle East for the British Empire. This colonial history is still palpable today through enduring proxy conflicts in Syria, Rojava and Iraq, and the occupation in Palestine. As recently as 2003, BP was found to lobby the British government behind the scenes to secure a licence for the biggest oilfield in Iraq after the War. John Browne, a Cambridge alumnus, was CEO of BP at the time.
The collusion between the British State and BP continues up to the present day. In 2017 the UK trade minister lobbied Brasil for favourable oil licenses on behalf of BP and Shell. In 2019, the BBC revealed that BP was entangled in a £10 bn in a corruption case involving the Prime Minister of Senegal. BP’s neocolonialism has dire consequences for the populations of these countries.
The company’s climate record is just as stark. BP is responsible for 2.51% of global historic emissions, the 6th most polluting company in the World. In 2018, BP invested £500m in zero emission technologies – representing only 3% of its total capital investment. In contrast, it spent $1.45 bn in fossil fuel exploration. A recent study in Nature details how we cannot afford to build any new fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to keep a reasonable chance to avoid runaway climate change beyond 1.5ºC of heating. BP has known of the climate crisis for 60 years, and still continues to invest in more fossil fuel extraction against the odds of the survival of millions. BP is not part of the solution, it is the problem.
The capitalist ideals of consumerism, individualism and obsessive accumulation have not only led to this crisis. They have also deceived many of us into thinking that our individual actions were to blame, and that the solution involves doing changes in your lifestyle. Individual change is important, but it means very little if BP and 19 other companies go unchecked while alone being responsible for 35% of global emissions.
Here in Cambridge, the University must adopt a radical reduction in emissions, and we must all do what we can to change our lifestyles. But it will be just a platitude if we allow the University to train graduates that will go on to work 9-to-5 for the very industry chiefly responsible for environmental degradation and global heating. Just like John Browne and his predecessor David Simon who, after stepping down from BP, became one of the first external members of Cambridge University Council. Part of the fight for climate justice for the University and society at large is to provide alternative career pathways that do not depend on colonial and extractive industries. We, students, will not accept to choose between having a decent job after our degrees and the future of the millions currently affected by the climate crisis
This year will certainly be a turning point for the climate justice movement. The Youth Strikes and Extinction Rebellion have awoken millions of people around the World. We are no longer blaming ourselves, we are rising to change the system. And the system is very close to home, it’s right here in Cambridge’s complicity with the fossil fuel industry. We, staff, students and members of the community, are taking ownership of our University and we refuse to be complicit, we will kick the fossil fuel industry out of our campus.
Marcel Llavero Pasquina, Beth Bhargava