When over 40 Cambridge students and academics occupied the elite U.K. university’s BP Institute earlier this year, they were escalating one of the newest, fastest-growing campaigns focused on dissociating higher education institutions from fossil fuels. For just over an hour, activists from the grassroots initiative Fossil Free Research held a sit-in inside the building named after one of Europe’s largest oil producers, while making speeches and staging a street theater production that called attention to links between BP and the school. “We’re drawing attention to how the fossil fuel industry continues to infiltrate prestigious academic institutions, mooch off their credibility, and even exert influence over the production of knowledge crucial to shaping climate policy,” said Ilana Cohen, a lead organizer for the international Fossil Free Research campaign, who is currently a senior at Harvard.
“I cannot sign anything that would permit extractive research”, a Nicaraguan Miskitu scholar- activist told us in response to our request for consent to use the information he shared and demanded a commitment to right relations. “I have given you not just my words, my analysis, my history and my experience, but that of the Miskitu communities I walk with. What do you offer us in return?” He needed a guarantee that we were not “extracting knowledge like others extracting timber and land from Miskitu communities.” After he spoke, seconds passed, seconds that felt like forever. We replied in our own way about our individual and institutional practices, highlighting our broader commitments to co-research, resource sharing, and non-extraction with other Indigenous and marginalized communities.