Activists hope the rest of society will join in resisting business-as-usual and the fossil economy’s death drive, the way the people of France joined the students who organized in May 1968.
Hundreds of students occupied their schools and universities on Tuesday as part of a global movement to disrupt educational institutions this May and push for an end to the fossil fuel economy.
The activists—mobilizing under the banner of End Fossil: Occupy!— say they take inspiration from the Parisian students of May 1968, whose protests led to one of the largest general strikes in French history.
“Fossil corporations have knowingly destroyed the environment and human lives for profit,” Teresa Núncio from End Fossil: Occupy! Portugal said in a statement. “We need to end the fossil economy and find a system that is for the people, not the rich.”
🌎 OCCUPATION WAVE 🌎— End Fossil: Occupy! (@endfossil) May 2, 2023
✊ Simultaneous student occupations in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Germany. And more to come…
🔥 In the spirit of May ‘68, we are rising up in resistance to fossil capitalism and the destruction of our life support systems.
The time is now‼️… pic.twitter.com/snchOzX3rt
This month’s wave of occupations builds on an earlier wave from September to December of 2022, in which more than 50 schools around the world were occupied, according to the group’s website. However, the students say that the persistence of the fossil fuel economy, represented by the record profits announced by major oil and gas companies early this year, mean there is more work to do. And they hope that this time, the movement won’t end at the school doors.
“We are calling on the rest of society to join us in resisting business-as-usual and the fossil economy’s death drive,” End Fossil U.K. activist Noah Herfort told Common Dreams.
The current wave of actions got a head start April 26 in France, with around 100 to 150 students at 15 different universities coordinating actions against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in Uganda and Tanzania. The Climate Accountability Institute found that the project—partially backed by France’s TotalEnergies—could raise the yearly emissions of the two African countries by a factor of more than 25.
“We don’t want to work for companies that continue to invest in fossil fuels,” participating students said in a statement shared on Twitter. “We will not participate in enriching a sector that lives off the destruction of the planet.”
🚨STOP EACOP: Coordinated action at 15 French universities against Total’s neocolonial climate destruction.— End Fossil: Occupy! (@endfossil) April 27, 2023
✊ Yesterday French students held symbolic actions against EACOP, Total’s carbon bomb that will displace 100,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania.
💬 “We don’t want to… pic.twitter.com/cR2m7P8umi
On April 29, youth climate activists in Uganda spoke up as well at a press conference in Kampala’s Kira Wakiso district, calling on world leaders, particularly in wealthy countries, to shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy.
“We want energies that can ensure a future that can last forever, energies that cannot waste our biodiversity,” End Fossil Occupy Uganda co-founder Nicholas Omonuk said, as New Vision reported.
The same day, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate posted a video message encouraging students to participate in the month of occupations.
“May we occupy for our planet, for our cultures,” she urged. “May we occupy for our existence. May we occupy for climate justice. Another world is possible.”
A clear message from @vanessa_vash. Occupy to eradicate poverty, occupy to end hunger, occupy for girls education, occupy for gender equality, occupy for our people, occupy for our planet, occupy for our existence, occupy for climate justice. Another world is possible. https://t.co/hhhtbJndNA— End Fossil Occupy Uganda (@endfossiluganda) April 29, 2023
Some Portuguese students also started their occupations April 26, with four more launching Tuesday for a total of nine. One began in Coimbra, one in Faro, and two in Lisbon, with activists succeeding in shuttering one Lisbon high school.
The Portuguese students demand that their government stop using fossil fuels by 2030 and that it make renewable energy accessible to all families by 2025.
🚨 LISBON HIGH SCHOOL SHUT DOWN— End Fossil: Occupy! (@endfossil) May 2, 2023
Students are demanding the government end fossil fuels by 2030 and accessible renewable electricity for all families by 2025.
Occupations will continue until our demands are met.#MayWeOccupy #EndFossil #ClimateEmergency pic.twitter.com/LnBD5TBOBl
In neighboring Spain, around 30 students camped out in the civic plaza of the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), as LaMarea reported. The students have three demands: more public funding for Barcelona’s universities, no more university contracts with private companies like Santander—which poured $51,168 billion into fossil fuels between 2016 and 2022—and a new mandatory university course on the current ecological and social crisis. This last demand was won by an End Fossil occupation at the University of Barcelona last year.
“Universities are a very important space to push for a necessary social transformation,” German UAB master’s student and participant Anna Sach told La Marea, “and we’re here because right now the university is not living up to the demands of the times.”
Since this morning we occupy the @UABBarcelona 🏫— End Fossil Barcelona (@EndFossilBCN) May 2, 2023
We will stay and be loud until the @gencat will comply with our 3 concrete demands for a sustainable and public financing of all catalan universities ✊#EndFossil#MayWeOccupy#EndFossilOccupy#Catalonia pic.twitter.com/cSAhr52vmU
In Sach’s home country, meanwhile, university students have launched five occupations in Münster, Bremen, Regensburg, Bielefeld, and Berlin, with one secondary school in Berlin joining in as well. An occupation also took place in the city of Magdeburg. End Fossil: Occupy! Münster told Common Dreams that around 200 students joined in the occupation, which organizers hope will last until the administration agrees to a productive dialogue.
At the University of Regensburg, students suspended themselves from ropes from the ceiling of a lecture hall, along with a sign reading, “Clean gas is a dirty lie.”
“Fossil corporations and politicians actively sowed fear of climate action, fear of change, for decades. And change often seems dangerous, but ‘business as usual’ means death,” Syrina Bachinger from End Fossil: Occupy! Germany said. “Especially for the most vulnerable and often least responsible—the Global South, the working class, women, and children. The fossil economy only serves the interest of a few. A just system is possible, but we will need to fight for it.”
Students also occupied Belgium’s Ghent University with demands that the institution take binding action to transition away from fossil fuels, implement a mandatory undergraduate course on climate and sustainability policy, and make sustainable choices when reducing expenses, according to an Instagram post. The occupation is slated to last through May 5, and organizers told Common Dreams that around 40 students joined in on the first day.
Lastly, students at three universities in the U.K. also participated with a countrywide demand that the government nationalize fossil fuels.
Twenty activists with Student Rebellion set up six tents in a lecture theater at the University of Leeds with plans to stay until the university promised to end all relationships with fossil fuel companies, according to organizers and the students’ Instagram statement.
“We’re taking it upon ourselves to make up for the failings of the University of Leeds,” Adam Woods of Student Rebellion Leeds said. “The climate crisis is an existential global issue, yet they continually refuse to engage with students, or live up to their institutional responsibility to hold government to account. So we’re occupying the most public space on campus to hold them to account and do this work for them.”
Around 15 demonstrators came together at both Falmouth University and the University of Exeter to demand that the universities back the nationalization of the fossil fuel industry, that they introduce a mandatory course on the climate and ecological crisis, that they stop allowing the fossil fuel industry to recruit graduates, and that they organize people’s assemblies to discuss important issues facing the two schools, including the climate emergency.
Tuesday’s actions weren’t limited to campus. In the Czech Republic around 100 people marched for an “anti-fossil spring,” and around 50 plan to camp out in front of the Ministry of Industry and Trade tonight.
“We see climate action not just as a struggle to reduce emissions, but a struggle for justice,” Remi D. Dzianfrom of Universities for Climate in the Czech Republic said. “The most affected people and areas need sufficient support for loss and damages. Also, fossil companies need to be held responsible for the death and destruction they have caused.”
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