Divestment is too important an issue to be handled this incompetently

Jack May 5 November 2015

Wednesday’s protest by the new group Zero Carbon has, as the saying goes, a commendable aim. As this column argued last week, climate change is a serious issue, and for the University to ignore its financial participation in the structures that perpetuate the slide into ever more serious climate change is condemnable.

The campaign, therefore, sets out with the best of intentions. Already, it has started to make waves. Its petition has had some relative success – though it must be remembered that 800 students in the context of a 20,000+ strong university is a mere 4% – and it is clear that it will attempt to be continually active in its divestment campaigning.

The University is, indeed, undertaking a review of the way its endowment its invested, which is believed to include fossil fuel companies. This newspaper hopes that the review concludes that divestment is the only real sensible option for a University of such high intellectual standing.

Such progressive steps, and such promising foundations, however, are no excuse for this campaign’s lacklustre and incompetent beginnings. Its opening gambit, a banner-dropping on the bridges of King’s, Clare, and Garrett Hostel Lane (better known amongst the student body by another name), was seen by perhaps 60 passing students during the hour or so before the campaigners shut up shop.

Were it not for the student journalists – both of this newspaper and The Tab – present, the event would have been seen by a mere few who happened to be passing.

Furthermore, what can only be described as light threats from the porters of King’s, Clare, and Magdalene College (to which several of the protesters belong) were enough to shift the campaigners from their bridge-top perches.

If this new campaign wishes to be taken seriously, and for its important aims to be followed through, it must have the competency to organise successful protests, the tenacity to see off official complaints and threats effectively, and the intelligence to ensure that publicity is not left as an afterthought to be lazily farmed out to student journalists.

In the meantime, it is frustrating that such a key issue has been left to a group that has thus far shown itself to be considerably incompetent.