Shortly before 2pm on Thursday, several dozen activists of the Youth Climate Swarm and People & Planet environmentalist groups occupied the entrance of the Main Library in protest of perceived inaction by the University of Edinburgh on climate change matters.
According to several occupiers who spoke to The Student, Thursday’s occupation was specifically in protest of the presence of fossil fuel companies at University-sponsored recruiting events, as well as in protest of the University’s indirect investments in fossil fuel industries.
For several stretches of the occupation, a Youth Climate Swarm Edinburgh branch member named Columba addressed the assembled crowd with a megaphone, explaining the Youth Climate Swarm movement to be an intersectional protest against government and private investment in new oil development.
The occupation lasted for around 90 minutes, with the Main Library lobby clear of occupiers by around 3:15pm. Though the University was not made aware of the occupation in advance, several occupiers described relations with University staff and security as “very accommodating” and “cordial” for the duration of the occupation.
Many students were first drawn to the occupation by a speech made over a megaphone by an organiser in the main lobby, which was able to be heard on the first and second floors. Students in the first floor study space were also informed of the events in the lobby by a member of the Youth Climate Swarm, who shouted about the occupation into the room.
The Youth Climate Swarm is a relatively new movement, having been founded around three months ago. The group describes itself as being decentralised in nature, and exists to organise acts of civil disobedience across the UK to force action on climate change.
The group has three specific policy goals which they aim to achieve through their protest actions, described in various marketing materials as “Just Stop Oil”, “Free Transport”, and “Insulate Britain”.
The organization is currently planning a campaign of civil disobedience throughout the month of March, including plans to use ‘swarms’ – sudden occupations of public places – to block areas of road critical to the operation of the fossil fuel industry in the UK. The group hopes that the police action these occupations are likely to cause will draw public attention to the group’s aims.
Students were surprised by the swift onset of the occupation, with one second year Politics student saying,
“It was all so quick, very unexpected. I’m not sure this is the best way to lobby the university hierarchy, but it got student attention”.
A third year student shared their opinion, saying,
“I heard the speaker [from the first floor study space] and seemed like a powerful guy, I came down and heard what he had to say.”
An estimate based on photos of the occupation captured by a contributor for The Student places the number of occupiers and observers well in excess of 120 by 2:20pm. The assembled crowd filled much of the floor area of the lobby of the Main Library, largely blocking movement through the space, and also briefly blocked the first story balcony overlooking the main library.
Oscar, a Youth Climate Swarm Edinburgh member, explained to The Student that sudden and unexpected protest actions like the library occupation were “just the start”, further stating that future protest actions by the group “will be a surprise to [those being occupied]”.
Oscar further explained that the protest action had been in planning for around two weeks, with the coordination with People & Planet being finalised two days before the event.
Megan, another Youth Climate Swarm member, explained another goal of some of the movement’s members to be starving UK fossil fuel companies of skilled labour through eliminating their presence at university job fair events, explaining,
“If every student put a little bit of pressure on the university to reconsider bringing recruiters to the university, that would be hugely impactful, because that cuts off the source of workers for fossil fuel companies. I think that would be so impactful.”
Several occupiers who spoke to The Student were pleased with onlookers’ reception to the occupation, with one describing Thursday’s events as a “resounding success”, further saying that many occupation members they knew had described Thursday as “the greatest day of their lives”.
Images courtesy of Callum Devereux