the word "GReenwashed" is spray painted on a red brick wall.

XR Youth Greenwash Action Targets University

Last Wednesday evening, under cover of darkness, an XR Youth activist spray painted the word “Greenwashed” on the wall of Senate House, the University of Bristol’s administration building, just metres away from the headquarters of University security,

In a statement, XR Youth Bristol explained that they carried out the action (on January 26) to challenge Bristol University’s acceptance of money for research and consultancy from defence companies, which the group describe as ‘ecocide criminals.’. 

Last year it was revealed by Huffington Post that the University of Bristol took almost £23mn from defence and arms companies, such as BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Cobham, since the year 2017/18. Bristol was one of nine Russell Group universities to accept such funding. 

By spray painting the message “Greenwashed” on Senate House, XR Youth hope to connect the dots between war and the climate crisis. 

In a statement, an XR Youth activist said: ‘We will not accept that [the] University of Bristol portrays itself as “green” whilst still receiving money from defence corporations. 

‘The air pollution from bomb damage, species extinction, contamination of land, chemical weapons poisoning, radiation, and more caused by heavy military equipment in wars is ecocide.

‘And that isn’t even including the destruction caused to communities, loss of life, and occupations caused by war. Bristol University should not be taking money and working with this industry of ecocide criminals.’

The University’s close ties with defence companies are no secret. A page advertising Bristol to prospective new students boasts of its proximity to companies like BAE Systems, whilst a joint project last year saw University of Bristol academics work alongside BAE to develop drone technology. 

According to Campaign Against the Arms Trade, BAE have given extensive operational support to Saudi Arabian forces as they wage war in Yemen and were the subject of a complaint to the International Criminal Court alleging that senior company executives were aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen. Other companies named in the complaint were Airbus and Leonardo – both of which are listed favourably on the University of Bristol’s prospective students website. 

According to students, the presence of defence companies at the university is part of daily life. 

One University of Bristol student in the Faculty of Engineering, who is also involved with XR Youth and asked to remain anonymous, said that defence companies are often present at job fairs hosted by the University and act as a ‘funnel’ between graduates and defence companies, especially from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. 

Whilst the University has an ethics policy against advertising jobs with tobacco companies, when it comes to defence they ‘don’t even register it as a problem,’ said the student. 

He added that he finds it ‘incredibly frustrating’ to see the University promoting jobs in the defence sector and would like to see the University push students towards careers in, for instance, renewable technology. 

This is not the first time XR Youth have argued the connection between war and the climate crisis. Last May the group staged a demo at the Harbourside where they floated origami peace lotuses in the water.

At the time of that demo, Poppy, who also studies at the University of Bristol, said, ‘as a physics student, all I get is adverts for working in BAE Systems….I turn down this stuff.’

In response to last Wednesday’s action, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘The University of Bristol plays a key role in tackling environmental change through its research, its teaching and how it operates. The University Civic Engagement Committee, which includes student members, is overseeing the development of an Ethics of Partnership framework, which will guide decisions around partnerships, including with defence firms.  We look forward to working with our community to develop this framework.

‘We proactively work with a diverse range of employers across all sectors to ensure that our students have the best career opportunities possible. At present, defence firms are permitted to attend events and advertise vacancies; however, they are not permitted to sponsor events. We believe that allowing students to make informed choices is the best and fairest approach.’

Feature image: Extinction Rebellion Youth Bristol

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