Teddy Hall Earth Sciences dinner crashed

Environmental activists have invaded a dinner celebrating Oxford University’s new partnership with Shell, after protesters condemned the scheme this week.

The dinner, which was held at St Edmund Hall and was attended by university representatives and Shell executives, was invaded by two activists ten minutes after it started. An unnamed man gave a speech to the room for around a minute, before being escorted from the premises. The activists have alleged to Cherwell that they were forcibly ejected from the room by porters, although St Edmund Hall’s porters have declined to confirm the allegations, refusing to comment.

The infiltration of the dinner was the culmination of several groups’ campaigns through the day. Campaigners oppose Shell’s £5.9 million donation to the university’s Earth Sciences department to fund a new geosciences laboratory. The Teddy Hall protest was organised by the UK Tar Sands Network, a group who oppose the practice of extracting oil from the ground which requires the mass clearing of land.

Video courtesy of UK Tar Sands Network

Shell have been criticised by environmentalists for developing new forms of oil extraction, as well as alleged human rights abuses in the Niger Delta and political lobbying in US elections. Shell defended their investment in the university, telling Cherwell that the company “recognises that certain organisations are opposed to our industry. We respect the right of individuals and organisations to engage in a free and frank exchange of views about our operations. Recognising the right of individuals to express their point of view, we only ask that they do so with their safety and the safety of others, including Shell personnel, in mind.”

In a video of the gatecrashing recorded by the UK Tar Sands Network, the invading speaker is shown introducing himself. He then discusses the day’s protests, saying, “I thought you might be interested about why this has happened, and what all the fuss is about…I’m going to very briefly explain to you why, and I’m going to let you think about that as you finish your dinner. Firstly, there’s an issue about the nature of the research that’s being funded.”

The camera’s lens is then obscured by somebody’s hand, and a man is seen approaching the speaker.

Danny Chivers, an activist and spokesperson for the UK Tar Sands Network, told Cherwell, “These were people who were sitting down to dinner, thinking that they’d managed to stay behind the glass, and avoid the protests of the day. They weren’t counting on unexpected guests showing up to give a talk at their dinner.

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“It’s not right for them to be able to have these cosy dinners behind closed doors, and ignore the real-life implications of the decisions they’re making.”

The UK Tar Sands Network was one of several groups protesting against the investment, which formally started yesterday. The launch ceremony was attended by the University’s Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, Shell’s Executive Vice-President for Unconventional Energy, Alison Goligher, and Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

In an emergency motion passed on Wednesday OUSU criticised the partnership, alleging that “this partnership is primarily concerned with research that will advance the location and extraction of new sources of hydrocarbons. The aims of this partnership run counter to recommendations made by climate scientists within the University.”

An Oxford University spokesperson defended the scheme, telling Cherwell, “The Shell-Oxford Research Partnership is about fundamental geosciences research. All Oxford University research is rigorous, independent and objective, and the terms of the partnership with Shell protects that independence.

“Shell is supporting research the University already wanted to pursue, both financially and through providing crucial data that will enable us to tackle fundamental research problems it would be impossible to study otherwise. The potential application of that understanding by industry and wider society includes not only meeting future energy needs, but mitigating and combating climate change.”

Earlier in the day protestors, including members of Greenpeace, the UK Tar Sands Network and People and Planet, started off proceedings with several chants, including, “Oxford Uni please dump Shell, if you don’t, we’ll raise hell”, “Fracking hell, that’s not funny, we don’t want your oily money” and “We’re united in defiance, get the Shell out of our science.”

Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network, said, “I was really surprised when I saw that Ed Davey was coming along and helping launch this.

“I think it’s all linked to the cuts, I mean this government have slashed the research funding of our universities, and that means that universities are being pushed into the arms of corporations like Shell that need to improve their reputation and make links with institutions like Oxford University. Davey is actively encouraging that, and I think that’s disgraceful.”

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In a letter published in the Guardian yesterday, over one hundred students, alumni, experts and campaigners expressed their opposition to the partnership. It was also supported by students from other universities such as University College London and York University.

Edward Mortimer, Honorary Fellow of Balliol College and former director of communications in the executive office of the United Nations secretary-general, also signed the letter, which said, “As Oxford alumni, staff and students, we are united in our opposition to this new partnership and the growing trend of oil companies funding, and thus influencing, the research agenda of our universities.

“Oxford’s own climate scientists are warning us that we need to leave the majority of known fossil fuels in the ground, and yet this new partnership will undertake research that will help Shell to find and extract even more hydrocarbons.”

In a final act of defiance, the protestors staged a ‘Shell Laboratory Closing Ceremony’ for the new Earth Sciences building. The Facebook page for the event explained how they would be transported to May 2018, where they’d be holding a “swanky ceremony of our own to celebrate the closure of the ill-fated and unpopular Shell-funded geosciences laboratory.” The page promised “live apologies and feeble justifications” from Hamilton, Goligher and “ex-Secretary of State Ed Davey.”

Hilda’s student and activist Ellen Gibson said, “Given that Oxford’s own climate scientists have been warning of the potential catastrophe of global warming caused by fossil fuel usage, I view it as irresponsible for the university to involve themselves in such a project and to take the money of a company directly endangering the future of Oxford’s students.”

The emergency motion passed by OUSU, as well as criticising the new partnership, mandated President David J. Townsend to “write to the University’s Vice Chancellor outlining OUSU’s position, asking for the partnership to be reconsidered.” OUSU Council has resolved to “Formally oppose Royal Dutch Shell’s partnership with the University’s Earth Sciences Department.”