UT climate activists demand freezing ties with fossil industry

| Rense Kuipers

Climate activist students and staff gave the pumpjack behind the Horst a makeover on Thursday afternoon. With the action, they wanted to underline their demand to the Executive Board: freeze ties with the fossil industry for a year.

A handful of climate activists gather behind the Horst at the end of the morning, in possession of rope, signs, pickets and scissors. Soon they are remodelling the pumpjack, donated by NAM in 1975 to study association Isaac Newton.

The strings run from the oil pump to signs expressing how the UT has ties with the fossil industry: 'research funds', 'ambassador network', 'study associations', 'guest lectures' and 'student prizes'. Attached to the pumpjack is a QR code that links to a petition calling on universities to break the ties.


This is a demand that climate activists are toning down for now. This week, a group of UT scientists and sustainability coordinators from the Climate Centre, Green Hub Twente and Scientist Rebellion sent an email to the Executive Board. The demand: a one-year moratorium on all collaboration and recruitment with fossil companies. 'Freezing the ties for a year,' says initiator Guus Dix, of Scientist Rebellion. 'And that subsequently a scientific committee assesses whether the companies have indeed started to take the Paris Agreement seriously. In that case, a collaboration could be restarted just fine.'

Next Tuesday, during a concluding 'sustainability dialogue', the Executive Board will share which concrete sustainability actions the UT will take. Whether freezing ties will become a reality remains to be seen. 'It is somewhat at odds with activism, but we decided earlier this year to engage in dialogue. We hope to see the results of that,' Dix said.

'Active, but friendly'

The metamorphosis of the pumpjack is Scientist Rebellion's last action this academic year. In the meantime, it has included blocking a student union excursion, barricading Shell's stand at the Business Days Twente and blindfolding artwork 'The Head' at the main entrance. 'We have been active over the past year, but also friendly,' says Dix. 'That's very different from what we've seen at other institutions.'

For at other universities, actions have been more severe in recent months. Climate activists occupied buildings in various student cities, which in several cases could count on heavy-handed action from either police or even a member of an executive board. Whether an occupation is a genuine option at UT? 'The possibility is always there,' says Dix. 'How we take action depends on how the university moves. We have always drawn attention with our actions, but for now that has been without great pressure.'

Dix looks back with satisfaction at how the climate activist movement has grown this academic year. 'People have united, conversations are being started. I see this year as a big step forward. The movement is there, it won't go away.'

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