Oil, money, and shame

Analysis of how and why climate justice activists shut down the Oil & Money Conference and what comes next…

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

Energy intelligence?

It’s a chilly Tuesday morning in October, the sun is about to rise, and the latest iteration of the Energy Intelligence Forum, (formerly known as the Oil & Money Conference), is about to kick-off.

TKirk Pritchard @kirkpritchard1 on X - the article author photographed with Greta and others at the action

The Energy Intelligence Forum is an annual conference where big oil executives and billionaire investors all come together in a 5-star hotel to drink champagne, gloat over profits, and lay out new proposals for fossil fuel lobbying. One panel this year featured a discussion on whether net-zero was ‘still relevant’, if you can believe it!

With oh-so-illustrious climate-destroying guests such as Wael Sawan, CEO of Shell, Anders Opedal, CEO of Equinor (the majority shareholder of the carbon bomb that is the Rosebank oil field), the conference has faced years of small protests by climate activists in the past.

But this year was different.

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

The resistance

Fossil Free London, Greenpeace, StopRosebank, Extinction Rebellion, and many other climate campaign groups came together with one united demand: Oily Money Out!

According to one Fossil Free London activist, the protest campaign demanded “oily money out of our city, politics, and lives.”

“We have no time to waste. Whilst these billionaires are conspiring over canapés, we are forced to use all we have left after years of campaigning and pleading.”

“We are putting our very bodies between the killers and the space in which they conspire to continue our collective destruction for their own ends.”

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

Direct action success

Activists arrived outside the building in the early morning and proceeded to block entrances to the conference at the Intercontinental Hotel, Park Lane.

Joanna Warrington, an organiser with Fossil Free London, said:

“They absolutely did not expect us. We blocked every entrance. Delegates were forced to stand on the pavement, awkwardly typing on their phones. I heard them asking the security guard, ‘well, how do we get in?’ and he replied ‘you can’t. They’ve blocked every door’.”

“The delegates were sent off to various hotel lobbies to sit and join the conference virtually. Even the CEO of Shell was unable to get in and had to give his speech via video link.”

This has been a major embarrassment for the fossil fuel industry. Perhaps exacerbated even further by the arrival (and subsequent arrest) of infamous Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

As protestors linked arms around the hotel, singing climate-justice-covers such as ‘Welcome to the Hotel Climate Crisis’, and ‘Go to Hell, Shell’, another surprise was still in store.

Greenpeace climbers suddenly began to abseil down the building from a seemingly pre-booked hotel balcony, dropping a massive banner declaring ‘Make Big Oil Pay - Oily Money Out’.

“Police, security, hotel staff – none of them were expecting it to be this big or disruptive. I could see police officers angrily asking each other ‘who the hell did the intel on this?’”

Activists shut off access to the hotel for at least 6 hours. Police made 29 arrests over the course of the day, including Greta Thunberg, for offences varying from obstruction of a highway to failing to comply with Section 14 of the new Public Order Act (2023).

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

The walk of shame

On Wednesday, following the successful mass action on day one, hotel security put up barriers to protect entry into the conference, and prevent any nascent attempts at blocking.

Unwittingly, they had set up a perfect ‘walk of shame’ for activists to line up and shout at the oily barons as they entered the hotel, many avoiding eye contact, others taunting protestors on their way in.

Chants of ‘Shame, Shame, Shame on you!’ rung out across Park Lane. Some activists chased down delegates entering and leaving, offering them some “bonus tax-payer subsidies” in the form of fake £20 notes.

The CEO of Equinor, Anders Opedal, was even caught trying to sneak out of the hotel after protestors had dispersed, and he was briefly confronted on video getting into his car.

Mark Campanele, Carbon Tracker, said to Sky News:

“To not take this protest seriously is to misread not just society, but to misread the science, to misread the global mood around climate change.”

“Everybody was talking about it. Of course, they did not like the personalisation of the walk-of-shame outside the building, [...] I think many of them felt it personally, and perhaps you do need to feel it personally to realise just how serious the situation is.”

Activists also staged at least three disruptions inside the hotel itself, being carried out to screams of ‘Stop Rosebank!’ and ‘Oily Money Out!

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

Thursday saw the massive ‘Festival of Resistance’, where activists marched from Marble Arch to the Intercontinental Hotel, chanting and singing in the dark, whilst an ad-van arrived to play testimonies from climate activists in the Global South.

One activist shared that they had accidentally ended up at the same pub as the delegates after the final day of the conference, and engaged in a final protest late that evening – it seems the wealthy climate-wreckers could not enjoy even a moment of peace. Too right!

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

The scenes of a massive oily death-puppet strolling up and down Park Lane, surrounded by police, whilst activists chanted songs and climbers remained fixed onto the walls of the glitzed-up oil forum, are quite unforgettable. Aside from garnering mass press attention, the disruptive aims of the three days of action were undoubtedly met: the Oil & Money conference was shut down for hours, and delegates were clearly disturbed by their consistent presence.

In the midst of an ever-worsening climate crisis, and an oilier-than-thou COP28 climate conference looming around the corner, mass actions such as these are invaluable.

After decades of quiet campaigning, legal challenges, and mass peaceful marches, climate catastrophe isn’t slowing down: it’s accelerating.

It was made very clear that week that oily money is not welcome in London.

Andrea Domeniconi @andomeniconi on Instagram

So, what’s next for the movement?

Kirk Pritchard @kirkpritchard1 on X

Fossil Free London are continuing their Oily Money Out campaign through repeated direct action, interrupting big oil execs at various conferences and talks wherever they can. Groups such as Just Stop Oil continue their slow-marches and stunts.

If the industry will not stop with masses of people asking, then it is time to stop asking, and start demanding. The fossil fuel industry can only operate if we let it.

It’s safe to say - they shut sh*t down. And they’ll do it again. I’m sure they’d love to have you there, too.