“Time to start treating the climate emergency as an emergency!” Protests in Exeter and Newton Abbot

Photo of protestors outside Barclay’s Bank in Newton Abbot by the author

Extinction Rebellion activists from Totnes and surrounding areas staged a peaceful sit-in outside Barclays Bank in Newton Abbot to raise awareness of the bank’s ongoing support for fossil fuels. The bank was due to close its doors for good at noon. XR’s protest was designed to bring that forward by half an hour, though customers were able to gain access via a side door. I spoke to people in the crowd as well as to the protestors themselves. The Barclays’ staff and the Police declined to comment.

If Priti Patel has her way and gets her latest draconian amendments to the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill rammed through, bypassing parliamentary scrutiny, protests like this will be illegal. Some might think this is no bad thing, but the right to peaceful protest is a fundamental feature of any democracy and, as I explained to a couple of bystanders, how they would feel if they wanted to protest the closure of a local school or a fire station (the latter being under constant threat in rural areas)? “Unhappy!” said one young woman. “It’d be like being in Russia or something.” Exactly.

Two burly and belligerent hurled abuse and berated the police for standing by. It is hard to imagine that the local police would have wanted to be pressurised into arresting people desperate to get their message across on a crisis that threatens our very existence. As it was, they were able to counter the demands for arrests with the assertion that no-one was breaking the law. What will happen when Patel gets her way?

Most of the shoppers I spoke to said they had little or no knowledge of what the climate crisis was really all about or even what fossil fuels were, which was somewhat dispiriting; but at least they listened and took leaflets.

I will leave it to the demonstrators to explain what they were doing outside a bank shutting its doors for the last time (a whole other issue for rural communities to contend with!):

Meanwhile, in Exeter, climate campaigners were once again at County Hall, pushing for further divestment from fossil fuels.

Devon County Council has pension fund investments of over £100 million in fossil fuel companies including Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil. This is despite declaring a climate emergency over two years ago.

The Divest Devon campaign, which involves campaigners and activists from Extinction Rebellion and Friday’s for Future youth strike movement, held a three day protest camp at County Hall in September, culminating in a day of action involving a march, speeches, music and theatrical actions.  At a meeting on the same day, the DCC Investment and Pension Fund Committee agreed to move some of its passive equity allocations to a greener set of investment portfolios.  However, not all of these are aligned with the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature increases in this century to 2oC above pre-industrial levels, or the recent Glasgow Pact commitment to ‘keep 1.5 alive’.

The gathering was planned to coincide with another meeting of the Investment and Pension Fund Committee. The Committee considered a motion submitted by Councillor Jacqi Hodgson.  If passed, it would result in DCC reviewing its Investment Strategy and developing and implementing a Responsible Investment Policy which would rule out new investments in fossil fuel companies, and divesting as a matter of urgency from those fossil fuel companies it is currently invested in.

Emma-Rose Goodwin, 47 from Exeter, who is involved in the Divest Devon campaign, said

 “We’re here this morning to show our support for Cllr Hodgson’s motion.  DCC are not acting as if the climate emergency is an actual emergency, as shown by their baby steps approach to divestment.  They are taking us down a road to climate and ecological collapse, when instead they could be taking a route to a better future for us all. 

“DCC are lagging behind other pension funds that are part of the Brunel Pension Partnership which have taken steps to divest significantly more of their pension holdings, including the Oxford Pension Fund and the Environment Agency Pension Fund. DCC are letting down the communities they serve by not doing everything they can to avert the climate crisis, and we’re tired of listening to their excuses.  They need to act now.” 

Photo courtesy of Extinction Rebellion Exeter

Trudy Turrell, from Totnes, who attended the meeting as a member of the public, said

 “I worked for South Hams District Council for over 20 years in practical conservation and engaging communities with their environment.  I cannot base the comfort of my retirement upon the destruction of the global environment and the futures of generations to come; and of our own two children.

To even come close to staying within a 1.5 degree rise in temperatures, we are going to have to halve our emissions in 5-6 years.  Not by 2050.  Not by investing in fossil fuel companies, airports, concrete manufacturers or questionable corporations such as Nestle, Walmart and Coca Cola.  That’s where Brunel currently invest my pension and DCC council tax payers’ funds.”

The campaigners are also asking people to visit the Fossil Free Devon webpage where there is a petition and template letter for writing to councillors – https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/