Members of Zero Carbon protest the launch of Cambridge ZeroCambridge Zero Carbon

Members of Cambridge Zero Carbon Society were covered in green paint this week to protest the launch of Cambridge Zero, the university’s new climate change research programme.

In the latest example of protest action staged by the group, three activists sat cross-legged on King’s Parade while another, dressed up as Cambridge Zero, poured paint over their heads.

Cambridge Zero Carbon described the move as its “own ‘greenwashing’ action’”, a reference to the accusation it has levied at the university that the Cambridge Zero programme is simply a “public relations stunt, designed to convince the gullible and divert attention away from the University’s continuing link to oil and gas.”

On Tuesday, Cambridge University’s twitter feed appeared to censor criticism of Cambridge Zero, hiding replies to a promotional tweet it posted as the programme launched.

The society’s criticism of Cambridge Zero attracted controversy this week after an article appeared in the Guardian, highlighting some of the concerns it had raised about the research group and focusing in particular on the programme’s director, Dr Emily Shuckburgh.

Campaigners objected to links they claimed exist between Dr Emily Shuckburgh and the oil exploration company Schlumberger. Dr Shuckburgh took to Twitter to defend herself, writing that “falsely accusing climate scientists of links to fossil fuel companies [...] is nasty, perverse and counterproductive.”

In a letter to the newspaper following the initial publication of the article, Shuckburgh argued that she was not connected with the fossil fuel industry. She stated her only link to Schlumberger was that, as principal researcher on a project funded by the National Environment Research Council, she had used data from Schlumberger ship surveys to add to work on fuel efficiency and to academic writings.


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Colleagues of Dr Shuckburgh, including academics from Cambridge University and LSE, similarly disparaged the accusations, commenting on her “tireless leadership in climate science” and attacking the claims as “absurd nonsense”.

The Guardian has since “[removed] unfair implications about her interactions with the fossil fuel industry” from their article and apologised for their original inclusion.

Cambridge Zero Carbon Society responded to these criticisms, arguing that the fact that “genuine concerns raised by students” had been met with “vitriol and condescension” demonstrated the university cared “more for its reputation than the product of its actions.”

It reiterated its complaints that “the University is yet to divest from fossil fuels”, as well as its concerns about the nature of Cambridge’s relationship with the BP Institute and Cambridge Zero’s focus on “climate repair” and other forms of geoengineering.

Varsity has contacted the University and Cambridge Zero for comment.

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