The group, geared towards 18-30-year-olds, sat outside the bank in “learning circles”Jacob Freedland

Activists from Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge (XR Youth) attempted to stage a sit-in at a newly opened branch of NatWest in the town centre this morning (30/10), only to find the bank had closed half an hour early in anticipation of their widely publicised demonstration.

The group were looking to put pressure on the bank, who are sponsoring COP26 — the climate change conference starting tomorrow (31/10) in Glasgow.

According to activists, the bank is guilty of “greenwashing” — providing an environmentally friendly facade whilst continuing to invest in fossil fuels. The aim of this protest was to make sure the bank “put their money where their mouth is” and fight the “climate emergency.”

The group, geared towards 18-30 year-olds in Cambridge, is a part of Extinction Rebellion, a global environmental movement attempting to use civil disobedience to effect political action.

In addition to staging demonstrations and sit-ins, XR Youth hold meetings once a week at The Locker Cafe in Cambridge. They attract both students and residents in the city, seeking to connect local networks.

Today’s action was mainly educational. Members sat in “learning circles” outside the bank, discussing what they considered to be NatWest’s climate failings and reading about how “corporations take advantage of the Global South”.

The group is cynical about efforts like COP26’s to tackle climate change. According to a leaflet handed out to members of the public, they “don’t trust capitalists to create positive change when capitalism plays a major part in creating the crisis.”

Garlic, a member of the group, said that NatWest, who “rely on economic growth” wouldn’t sponsor COP unless they believed it would increase their profits.

Cambridge University was another topic of conversation at the sit-in. Pecan and other members of the group were concerned about the University exacerbating the wealth divide in the city and not utilizing their funds to address salient social issues.

Harvey, who sits on the SU’s Ethical Affairs committee, shared Pecan’s concerns surrounding the University’s wealth.

“Their imperative is growth,” he said. “They’re just sitting on all this money, they’re hoarding wealth...You can see how they’ve locked the community out and they’re hiding out in their fortified buildings.”

One activist said they don't vote since existing "institutions are not compatible with solving the climate emergency."Varsity

Asked if the University’s recent divestment efforts were satisfactory, Harvey said they “hadn’t gone far enough.”

“Look at the scope of their divestments — they’re lazy. They’re only going to start in eight years, at which point 90% of our fuel reserves should be left unused in the ground,” he added.

Harvey broadened his critique to other areas of investment within the University, citing Cambridge’s links with the arms trade which is “part of the same problem.”

For these activists, the climate struggle is “connected to other issues”. Pecan claims he’s working toward “youth liberation” — “grabbing the megaphone” from older generations who have had their say already.

It is activists like Pecan that want to refocus the environmental movement on a more radical agenda. He doesn’t vote and believes change can’t come through the ballot box since “these institutions are not compatible with solving the climate emergency.”


Mountain View

Extinction Rebellion Cambridge glue gnomes to Clare College gates

Some members of the public took fliers describing the group’s views on COP and discussed climate priorities with XR Youth.

One passerby, Giles, told Varsity that he agreed with XR Youth’s views on climate change, but was concerned about the group being “lost in the weeds” when opposing projects like HS2, which he said would help lower carbon emissions.

When asked to comment on XR Youth’s tactics to bring about persuasion through inconvenience, Giles explained that he’s unsure if this is the best way to go about climate change activism.

“The attempt to stage a sit-in at a retail branch of NatWest was an ineffectual tactic, but the objective was great,” he explained.

Jeff Zymeri contributed reporting.