King’s College agree to fossil fuel divestment following student hunger strike

Today King’s College London agreed to divest from fossil fuels, following eight weeks of protest actions by King’s College Climate Emergency which culminated in student Roger Hallam going on hunger strike. Marie Segger followed the last week of their campaign.

It’s a cold morning. The sun is shining after days spent under a thick layer of grey clouds and London’s smog.

Roger Hallam is tall and looks haggard in his boxy outdoor jacket as he stands in front of King’s College’s strand campus on this smoggy morning. His pale face looks even paler in the grey sun and the light casts shadows on his sunken face that make it look more wrinkly than it is. He looks tired.

But his spirits are running high. He comes to life in conversation, marionette-like as he springs into action. He is an idealist, a visionary. Some call him a maniac or a “crazy hippie,” he says.

We’ve got 10 more years maybe. It could be 2 years, it could be 10, but it’s not gonna be anymore than 20.” Until what? “The point of no return”

Hallam is desperate, because we’re running out of time: “We’ve got 10 more years maybe. It could be 2 years, it could be 10, but it’s not gonna be anymore than 20.” Until what? “The point of no return,” he says. That is, until the poles melt and the earth’s temperature rises so far that humanity cannot survive, and climate change kills the human race.

Hallam compares climate change to a cancerous lump. “It spreads exponentially,” he says. At first nobody paid attention to it but now that we have the diagnosis given by climate experts, “we need to stand up.”

And that is why Hallam looks so haggard. To raise awareness for climate change and to convince the decision makers at King’s College to divest from fossil fuels he has decided to go on hunger strike.

Photo: King’s College Climate Emergency

Today marks the fourteenth day for him without food or liquids other than water. He is part of a group of activists called King’s College Climate Emergency and he is a PhD researcher at King’s.

They have campaigned for King’s to divest from fossil fuels after conducting a survey of 160 students of which 96% agreed that the university should divest. Hallam calls that “an effective consensus” and the group worked out a campaign strategy.

Hallam, who studies radical activism, came to the conclusion that a successful campaign needs “a powerful symbolic act” to achieve its aim, hence the hunger strike. But before that the group has tried other ways to provoke attention and start a dialogue with the college’s decision makers.

Last week they spray-painted the historic campus with chalk and got arrested, prompting the Independent to publish an article. Hallam explains the group’s reasoning: “They realise that the costs of ignoring you are greater than the costs of engaging with you”.

“Personally I’m at a stage where I would harm my own health for this issue,” he says, adding ”I think increasingly there are activists who are ready to make sacrifices.”

Speaking about his hopes for an agreement he says: “They want to come up with something substantial because otherwise they run risk of having a hospitalised student and that’s not gonna do the reputation any good.”

Since he started the hunger strike the university has come forward and there have been several meetings. On Thursday, 2 March they have laid out what Hallam calls “groundwork” for an agreement. “We’re not some romantic radicals, we want to reach a deal,” he stresses.

Then today King’s College Climate Emergency recieved the news they’ve all been waiting for. In a meeting at 5pm, King’s agreed to completely divest from fossil fuels by 2022, and by 2025 be a fully carbon neutral institution. Hallam celebrated with some bananas, his first meal in 14 days.

Ideally they want the university to invest in green technologies and research instead, and the group is ready to monitor the process: “If they don’t follow through, we’ll be spray-painting chalk again.”

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