Protestors at the Elizabeth Way petrol stationVictor Jack

Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters yesterday shut down a BP petrol station on Elizabeth Way for a day-long event, which saw music, dancing, pop-up art - and some motorists trying to drive into protesters.

The event, which lasted from 8.45am to 5pm, is XR and XR Youth Cambridge’s longest action to date, and aimed to “turn the tables, by greenwashing” BP, according to the Facebook event.

BP has increasingly drawn criticism for ‘greenwashing’ advertising.

Yesterday’s protest marks the latest stage in XR Cambridge’s ′Rebel for Justice’ campaign, with the group pledging to shut down the city in a week-long roadblock unless their demands are met.

XR have three demands, levelled at the three Cambridge local institutions.

They have called for the University to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry, and urge the Cambridge City Council to hold a Citizen’s Assembly on climate justice. They further demand Cambridgeshire County Council work with other authorities to provide “a plan for a just transition away from an inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels”, according to XR’s website.

Speaking at yesterday’s protests, Freya Neighbour, a member of XR Youth who helped organise the action, said “we’ve really planned for this for a long time, and it’s amazing to see it come together.”

“This really demonstrates the power we have … to disrupt the business as usual standard that happens in Cambridge, and I think that will go a long way in showing Cambridge what we intend to do.”

She said reactions to the protest amongst passing motorists was “a totally fifty-fifty split”, with some showing support while others attempted to drive into protestors.

Protesters push back against a car trying to enter the BP stationVictor Jack

At around 10.30am, a car ran into 64-year old Donald Bell, injuring his knee. Another car was physically held back by protesters before the driver gave up and drove off.

Throughout the day, XR’s trained ‘de-escalators’ worked to calm down the more aggressive motorists.

Neighbour stressed, “we’re not blaming and shaming motorists, we’re just asking them to address our concerns because it’s just such an urgent issue”.

The owners of the petrol station, David and Sylvia Salisbury, had initially planned to ask protesters to leave, but she says on the day they were “affable” and shook her hand.

If their three demands are not met, XR Cambridge and XR Youth Cambridge have pledged to bring the city to a halt with a week-long roadblock in the city from February 16th.


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XR Cambridge has already met with the Council to discuss the possibility of a citizens assembly, while County Council have showed an openness to communicate, according to Annie Rose, another organiser in charge of liaising with the local bodies.

She said she’s “heard nothing” from the University, arguing in the past it justified non-action on its fossil fuel ties by blaming the restraints posed by the college system, which she thinks is a “rubbish” excuse.

Rose, who studied Theology at Lucy Cavendish and now works in the University’s outreach arm, said: “I stand in front of groups of 11 year olds and it feels so dishonest to suggest to them that anything in their future is in their control when corporations like this and the government just refuse to act”.

The protest also featured a pop-up ‘Climate Justice’ art exhibition in the garage, including live artwork and performances.

Kirsten Lavers, a 60 year-old artist and local resident, uses data around climate change as the basis of her art.

Her artwork, called ‘admitting the possibilities of error’, brings attention to climate change issues by showing them in perspective, such as bird extinction since the 1500s until now, and crude oil energy consumption since the 1900s.

One of Kristen's artworks shows the increase in crude oil energy consumption beginning in the early 1900s - colour change represents an increase in the thousands of terawatt hours consumedVictor Jack

On joining XR, she stressed “sometimes as citizens we feel, we don’t have much power to influence what we say every day, but we really do,” and “we have to wake up and be prepared to make quite significant sacrifices if we are going to stand any hope”.

Couple Michael Helms and Jane Norman regularly play the samba in XR protests, which they argue is “really powerful” and “useful” in non-violently confronting motorists.

“I fear for my children’s future, for the future of the human race,” Michael said in explaining why he chooses to participate. He added, “psychologically, [climate change] is absolutely terrifying”.

The Elizabeth Way petrol station has been the target of environmental protest previously, with Cambridge fellow Dr. Jason Scott-Warren setting up a ‘one-man protest’ at the petrol station earlier last year.

Last week, Scott-Warren was found guilty of disobeying a Section 14 order during last April’s London XR protests.

A University spokesperson told Varsity it “holds no direct investments in fossil fuels. Only 5% of the University’s indirect investments are in the energy sector, and only a portion of these will be in fossil fuel companies,” while highlighting its membership of the Responsible Investment Network and recent Cambridge Zero initiative.

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