Extinction Rebellion Scotland occupy AIG office in Glasgow

It was XR Scotland’s turn on Friday to join Insure Our Future’s global week of action and send a clear message to the insurance industry. Stop insuring new and fossil fuel projects and insure our future instead. We also had a surprise for one insurance company.

Protest outside insurance company AIG office. Activists hold placards and banners saying AIG! Insure our Future not Extinction and Insure our Future not Fossil Fuels. Oil Slicks, a protest troupe dressed head to toe in black, perform in front of protest with one kneeling on road. There is a large carbon bomb prop saying CO2 on it.
XR Scotland action for Insure Our Future outside AIG office. Photo by Susanna Hotham

Insure Our Future is a global network of NGOs and social movements that hold the insurance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis.

Their global campaign week had already seen some beautifully creative actions across UK cities and the globe. Glasgow was showing solidarity and joining protests in London, Uganda, Manchester, Tanzania and Tokyo to name just a few.

So why insurance? Insurance is the Achilles heel of the fossil fuel industry. Without insurance, projects like the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) or the West Cumbria coal mine will fail to go ahead.Insurance companies are actively worsening the climate crisis by continuing to insure new oil and gas projects, including carbon bomb projects that alone would drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits with catastrophic global impacts. Some insurance companies are better than others, but none have policies that align with global climate targets.

Oil Slicks, a protest troupe dressed head to toe in black, perform in front of protest with one kneeling on road an danother prostrate on road. Activists wave placards and XR flags.
Oil Slicks protest outside AIG office. Photo by Susanna Hotham

Back on the streets of Glasgow. Early morning and it’s sunny and chilly. Commuters walk past, double-taking at the sight of a large sphere designed as a carbon bomb and possibly slightly alarmed as they overhear fragments of bomb-related conversations.

Ethereal and haunting spirit figures emerge from nowhere. The Oil Slicks. Swathed in black robes and unfurling sweeping bat-like wings, they move with slow grace. Silent, vulnerable and powerful they are a contrast to the early bustle around the train station.

The procession moves off. The piper sends mournful airs drifting through the streets around Central and St Vincent Street accompanied by the steady beat of a drum. The police cast suspicious glances at the bomb. No-one thinks it’s a real bomb of course. But surely it’s going to do something? All bombs are supposed to go off. What is the trick here?

Carbon bombs projects are an unfolding madness, catastrophic slow-moving detonations of vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon bomb projects such as the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would result in at least a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions. Yet they can be stopped if insurance companies stop supporting them. Thanks to local communities uncovering human rights abuses and severe pollution risks, 28 global insurers have publicly ruled out EACOP, leaving it struggling to get off the ground.

It’s not the bomb that reveals a surprise but an occupation. Nine XR Scotland activists occupy the front foyer of AIG’s insurance office with banners, songs and leaflets for insurance staff to join a forthcoming Insurance Assembly.

XR Scotland climate activists sit on floor of insurance company AIG. They sit around a flag that says 'No Carbon Bombs'. They wear messages that says Rule ut West Cumbria Coal, Rule out Carbon Bomb TMX and Rule out Carbon Bomb EACOP
XR Scotland climate activists sit on floor of insurance company AIG.

AIG is a major global insurer headquartered in the US, offering services in more than 70 countries and jurisdictions. It’s a major insurer of US coal mines and has not yet ruled out insuring carbon bomb projects such as the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), the Trans Mountain tar sands oil pipeline (TMX) or the Adani Carmichael coal mine, despite dozens of other insurers committing to staying away from these risky projects. It has not ruled out insuring the West Cumbria Mine (WCM) and is an insurer of the Freeport LNG export facility in Freeport, Texas. No surprise then that they are one of three key global targets for the campaign.

St Vincent Street is an insurance street. There are nine insurance company offices. Spooked by the XR posters that have appeared on their buildings, and the week’s events elsewhere at all their offices, they’ve shutdown their offices or sent their staff home. This in itself is a form of disruption.

While it’s common for Police Scotland to attend our protests, our activists do not communicate with them directly, except one rebel who is appointed and trained as Police Liaison. We are also joined by Legal Observers, who do not directly take part in the protest, but watch and observe the police, taking notes about what they say and do, so that if the police abuse their authority and deny it, there is an accurate independent record of events. Legal Observers are volunteers trained by the Scottish Community & Activist Legal Project and we are very grateful for the service they provide.

After some speeches outside AIG’s office, the procession pays a visit to the office of Hiscox for more speeches and chants. Hiscox is an insurance company involved in gas and oil insurance. It has ruled out insuring the Adani Carmichael mine and excludes insuring tar sands and Arctic exploration, but it has not yet ruled out EACOP, TMX or the West Cumbria Mine.

Rather than exploding, the carbon bomb is starting to deflate. No-one needs to see a sagging carbon bomb careering down St Vincent Street. The bomb has done its job and heads off for defusing in a controlled area. The procession initially planned to head to the Zurich office at the end of St Vincent. But another surprise is revealed, and it delights and warms the spirits of all as the cold starts to bite.

XR Scotland activists sit on floor occupying insurance company AIG office and hold up hands to the camera with Ruel out Coal, Rule out TMX and Rule out New Oil written on them
XR Scotland activists occupy AIG office

After a week of protests at Zurich offices, its Chief Executive Officer, Marco Greco, has signalled that he’s ready to enter into talks with Extinction Rebellion and members of the Insure Our Future coalition. It’s a victory. It’s also an example of the impact of our actions, our solidarity and protests. Sometimes the impact of what we do slow burns in the ether, taking its time. Sometimes there is a quick positive tangible win to celebrate.

Here’s the weird thing about the insurance industry: extreme weather events and an overheating climate are already costing billions for insurers. Their whole business model is based on analysis, certainty and stability and will be screwed by climate change. They don’t need the fossil fuel industry, yet they have an immense and powerful opportunity for positive change for us all.

They are not yet taking that opportunity. They are either offsetting loss by raising prices for ordinary families, or completely abandoning homeowners in areas vulnerable to climate breakdown in both the Global South and North in places like California, Florida and Louisiana. Imagine a world without the safety of insurance in a world rapidly becoming unsafe because of climate change. For many on the frontline, this is already happening.

The procession returns to the occupation. The occupiers emerge to loud cheers. There is a touching rendition of Let us Stand and then it’s a walk back for lunch. The Oil Slicks disappear as mysteriously as they appeared.

As our food is being prepared, we break into small groups to discuss the action that took place; celebrate what went well and discuss what could be improved for future actions. Debriefs like this relate to our principles and values of reflective learning, regenerative culture, and openly challenging ourselves. Groups self-appoint a facilitator and a note-taker who collect and summarise responses that are then shared with the room with the help of another facilitator. This assembly-style deliberation is a method of democratically processing a lot of feedback that balances empowering all voices with highlighting important issues that only affect a minority. It’s efficient and effective, and our governments could learn from it.governmental systems.

Politics is becoming chaotic yet anaemic, dangerous yet facile. Following the money and focusing on the enablers of the fossil fuel industry bypasses trying to make progress with the cruel pantomime and corruption of politics. Insure Our Future’s campaign is already working as insurance companies are starting to pull out of fossil fuels.

Sometimes though, it’s not about the despair of the bigger picture or the impact of a global campaign. Sometimes it’s about us and our communities.

An action or protest can succeed on many different levels – media, disruption, solidarity, outreach. Connection can be added to the list. Chatting over a hot mugs of tea and soup provided by the Scottish Kitchen Infrastructure For Activists, it’s a joy to come together with like-minded people and simply connect – protest together for the planet and then eat together as people.

If you’ve been inspired by our action or by Insure Our Future’s campaign, please donate to XR Scotland so that we can continue what we do. Carbon bomb props and leaflets need money and any support would be amazing and much appreciated.

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