Student goes on hunger strike in protest of university’s fossil fuel investment
King's College has faced weeks of protests over links to oil firms
27 February, 2017 — By William McLennan
Roger Hallam said he will not eat until his demands are met
A STUDENT at a leading university has gone on hunger strike and said he will not eat again until King’s College agrees to end its multi-million pound investment in oil companies.
A group of environmental activists have spent the past month in escalating protests at the campus in the Strand, which has seen students arrested and suspended, in an attempt to draw attention to the university’s connection to fossil fuel giants, including Shell and Exxon Mobil.
PhD research student Roger Hallam, who spent the night in a police cell earlier this month after spraying chalk paint on a university wall, began his fast on Thursday and plans to sit outside the campus until there are “credible negotiations to fulfil our demand, which is a decision to divest from all fossil fuels”.
The university suspended the 50-year-old and said he had caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage with chalk paint, but the suspension was overturned last week and Mr Hallam has returned to campus. The university said this week that they had hired a “specialist company in stonework and restoration” to remove the paint at a cost of £15,000.
Protesters left messages in chalk paint at a protest on campus
Police were also called to a protest outside the university on February 9 and several other students were warned they had committed criminal damage after applying children’s poster paint to university walls.
Mr Hallam said: “We are on the cusp of abrupt climate change, which is about as bad as you can think, times a hundred. A lot of students and academics, people who look at what’s actually happen, realise that unless there is a massive reduction in carbon dioxide emissions it’s game over for civilisation. A big part of that is not waiting for governments to get things together.”
Mr Hallam is part of the King’s College Climate Emergency group who said the university has more than £10million invested in fossil fuel firms as part of their endowment fund.
He said there was a “massive contradiction” between the university’s values and their investment in oil firms. “King’s is a world leader in health care and medical science.
They have big campaigns about cancer and all the rest of it, but at the same time cancer is like peanuts compared to climate change in terms of its potential impacts,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the university said they had been engaging with members of a different group, the Fossil Free KCL, since 2014 and as a result they will be “reducing investments in companies involved in the ‘dirtiest’ fuels like tar sands oil and thermal coal and move towards opportunities to support low carbon alternatives”.
This would mean they could continue to invest in companies extracting fossil fuels in more traditional methods, like oil drilling, however.
The spokeswoman added: “We have also chosen to reduce our own emissions by 43 per cent, invest 15 per cent in funds that have an explicit social and environmental benefit, including zero carbon alternatives to fossil fuels and to exit funds that invest in tobacco, coal and heavy oil.”
Referring to the decision to lift Mr Hallam’s suspension, the spokeswoman said: “The student conduct and appeals process is under way, therefore it is not appropriate to comment further.” Students intend to hold a further demonstration in the Strand starting at 1pm on March 4.