Meet the students behind Exeter’s Shell Out campaign

In case you have no idea what the (S)hell is going on

If, like most of us, you’ve been heading to the library every day in a bid to catch up with three month’s worth of work in a week, you’ll probably have come across Exeter’s Get the Shell Out campaign. The Tab Exeter spoke to one of the leaders of the campaign to find out more about the campaign, and break it down into an easy guide for you.

What exactly is the Shell Out campaign?

The campaign’s aim is to get the university to cut ties with fossil fuel companies. They are attempting to collaborate with the university to have completely ethical investments in both the short and long term.

“Although the partnership between Exeter University and Shell has been going on for 15 years, a continued five year partnership was renewed in November 2022, which is when we decided to take action”, they say.

Who are the people behind the campaign?

The ‘Shell Out’ campaign formed in November 2022 after the partnership was renewed for a further five years. The group is formed of student activists, the former Guild VP for Liberation and Equality (and incoming Guild President) Emma de Saram, and several university societies including Be the Change, Students of Colour Association, Feminist society, and Meditation society.

“We have a great team of people who have come together and support the cause”, they told The Exeter Tab. “We’ve had Meg from XR who’s been managing our social outreach and social media, and lots of individual student activists as well as societies. Two of our group were actually arrested and served prison time for involvement with Stop Oil campaign.”

What exactly is going on?

The Shell Out campaigners feel that this partnership does not align with Exeter Uni’s 2030 environmental strategy. “We feel like the university should find alternative funding which reflects the values they are attempting to promote.”

Although Shell launched its renewable energy pledge and is “working to provide more renewable and low-carbon energy options for customers through investments in wind, solar, electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, and more,” they are investing substantially more into fossil fuels than renewables (an estimated 1.5 percent of its capital expenditure goes into renewable energy).

The group is concerned that through its partnership with the university, “Shell are attempting to Greenwash and essentially buy a good reputation from the university”, they claimed. “Eyebrows are currently raised over how the university is inadvertently benefitting off the cost of living crisis through this partnership as Shell’s profits since Covid have significantly risen whilst the majority of students and families are struggling to continue as normal.

“Although Shell are investing in renewables, and the university list it as one of their ‘strategic partners’ (certain businesses which recognise – and work towards – their shared, long-term goals), they are not doing enough for the environment.”

What have the protesters done so far?

There have been three in-person protests so far, and online events including a collaboration with Fridays for the Future.

What has Exeter students’ reaction been like?

Whilst there has been great support for the campaign amongst a group of like-minded students, the majority of students not only have not shown much interest, but have shown active distain for it. Students have been laughing at the protesters during their events, questioning what they’re doing and deeming it unnecessary.

Whilst ignoring climate change is often a coping mechanise too combat eco-anxiety, the Shell Out campaigners are keen to remind us that it’s an enormous privilege to be able to do so. By putting the university under pressure to make a change, they are putting themselves on the line with little support or encouragement from either side.

By helping students realise that their cause is for everyone – current students, the under-represented, the future – they hope to encourage them to have a bit more support for the protest.

What can I do to get involved?

Following the group on Instagram, and reposting their stories helps support them – especially doing things like saving their posts as this boosts the algorithms which will spread their posts further, the group says. You’ll also find information about their events on their Instagram – they run crafting sessions and mental health events as well as in person protests. Mostly though, just show them support by not being a d*ck if you see them around campus. Ultimately what they’re doing is brave, hard-work, and going to benefit all of us.

The campaigners mostly wanted to remind everyone that student power is what will change issues like these – we have so much power and influence, even when it feels like it is being stripped away from us. Historically students have been at the heart of massive protests which have led to fundamental, structural changes – and this is still possible. We’re made to be individuals but building a community around issues like climate change is the only way to regain our power.

How has Exeter Uni responded to the Shell Out campaign?

According to the group, the university has taken a long time to respond to the campaign. The group claims the uni’s predominant concerns have been regarding their campaigning methods rather than the content of their protest, and says their main worries have been the noise levels the group might cause when staging in-person protests and gatherings.

When The Exeter Tab reached out to Exeter University for comment, a spokesperson said it is “not true that the University took a long time to respond to the campaign or that the main concerns were about the noise, and the details of the partnership with Shell were provided in University communications and on our website.”

A university spokesperson said: “The University recently signed a contract to work with Shell on a nature-based solutions project for carbon sequestration in Brazil, which will contribute to the global race to net zero.  The Carbon Storage in Pasture through Ecological Restoration (CASPER) programme focuses on soil carbon storage and is aimed at substantially advancing understanding of how both plant-microbe soil interactions and agricultural management practices impact the potential for carbon sequestration. The programme will involve significant lab-based and fieldwork experimentation in Brazil working with local partners, communities and land managers in the region.    

“The University has worked with Shell for over 15 years in collaborative research projects on advancing biofuels and renewable chemicals and our partnership was formalised under a Framework Agreement in 2017.  This planned research is part of a wider Shell-led research programme focussed on carbon sequestration through the Nature-Based Solutions part of Shell’s Energy Transition Strategy (2021) and target to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050. High-quality nature-based solutions, independently verified to determine their carbon impact and social and biodiversity benefits, will play an important and inevitably necessary role in mitigating global emissions.  

“The science behind net zero is clear about the need to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuel supply and demand, transition to renewable energy at scale, and invest in carbon dioxide removal, and this work is at the heart of the University of Exeter’s Strategy 2030.”

When contacted for comment, Shell said to refer to the university for comment.

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