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Sedgwick Department vandalised by climate activists amidst pressure to cut fossil fuel ties

‘Researchers across the University are working hard on solutions to climate change and have the right to expect to do so free from threatening behaviour’


On the morning of Wednesday 01/03, the Downing Street door into the Sedgwick Department, commonly used by students and staff, was found to have been vandalised by large amounts of bright green paint. Accompanying the paint is black graffiti, with the phrase: “this is not a drill”. This is also the name of a climate activist group, formed in July 2022.

Image Credits: Keira Quirk

A statement was released on the morning of 01/03 by the group “This Is Not A Drill,” claiming that the reason behind the “hit” was the department’s links to the fossil fuel industry, referencing links with companies such as Schlumberger (now SLB).

Despite this, This Is Not A Drill also acknowledges that there are scientists in the Sedgwick Department who “directly research the climate crisis.”

The vandalism follows a similar incident that occurred in late January, in which the front doors of the Chemical Engineering Department were smashed. “This Is Not A Drill” released a report on this incident as well, citing a recent lobby by department staff against a vote to cut fossil fuel research ties.

This comes in the midst of an Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cambridge movement known as the “Schlumberger Out Campaign,” which aims to encourage the University of Cambridge to end all ties with the oilfield services company, SLB.

XR Cambridge has publicly specified its demands to the University of Cambridge and to SLB:

  1. Cut all ties: University of Cambridge stop collaborating with SLB
  2. Kick them out: SLB out of Cambridge
  3. Repair the harm: SLB stop profiting off planetary destruction and commit to climate reparations

XR Cambridge has publicly specified its demands to the University of Cambridge and to SLB:

  1. Cut all ties: University of Cambridge stop collaborating with SLB
  2. Kick them out: SLB out of Cambridge
  3. Repair the harm: SLB stop profiting off planetary destruction and commit to climate reparations

In response to the most recent incident on 01/03, the Head of the Sedgwick Department circulated a statement, acknowledging that “such incidents can be upsetting” for staff and students, who go about their normal working day in the department. He maintains that the department’s position and research “is 100% committed to supporting the energy transition to a net-zero future.”

The University also released a notice on 02/03: “We condemn in the strongest terms any attempt to intimidate our staff or damage property. Many researchers across the University are working hard on solutions to climate change and have the right to expect to do so free from threatening behaviour. Wanton vandalism achieves nothing. The incident has been reported to police.”

A further statement, made by the acting Vice-Chancellor, Anthony Freeling, has also been circulated. He recognises “the urgent goal of tackling climate change” and the University’s “unique” position in being able “to support the transition to a sustainable and equitable net-zero world”, but states that this can only be achieved through collaboration “with government, industry and society in pursuit of new technologies and creative solutions,” and not “through disruption and criminal damage.”

As such, Freeling states that “such threatening behaviour and senseless damage to University property are unacceptable,” and he unambiguously condemns the actions of the protestors. He also confirms that the Sedgwick Department will continue to have “the unconditional support of the University’s leadership” at this time.

When approached for comment, the University of Cambridge emphasised the “anger and upset” that has been generated as a result of the vandalism, which is seen as an act of “violence and intimidation.” They expressed concern for any “fear” that may now be felt by members of the Sedgwick Department, and the wider university, as a consequence of the incident, and stated that the actions of the protestors are unacceptable, “irrespective of the cause.”

When contacted last month about XR’s occupation of the university engineering departments, SLB provided The Tab with the following response: “We are definitely committed to playing our part in addressing climate change by reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting our customers reduce theirs, through targets aligned with climate science and by meeting the demand for energy sustainably.

“SLB invests in a range of initiatives to achieve this. Our transition technologies are deployed for customers to support their climate ambitions and we have made a public commitment to achieving Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In addition SLB New Energy business is developing solutions for the future that are carbon neutral which we intend to expand as part of our strategic ambitions addressing climate change. The Cambridge Research centre is heavily involved in supporting the company’s commitment to Net Zero emissions, with many projects in New Energy activities.”

SLB has been contacted for further comment regarding the Sedgwick Department vandalism. The Sedgwick Department has also been contacted for comment.