As many as 400 people are now camping on the bank’s campus at Gogarburn, and organisers promise to disrupt “business as usual” for RBS in the days ahead.
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The activists behind the Camp for Climate Action accuse the state-owned bank of funding “the most environmentally damaging project in the world” through its support of tar sands oil extraction in Canada and other fossil fuel businesses.
There have been two arrests since the protesters arrived on Wednesday night, but the demonstration has, for the most part, been calm and orderly. Temporary toilets and a field kitchen have been established on-site, and RBS security guards in high-visibility jackets are overseeing the camp.
Organisers said they had “swooped” on the grounds a day earlier than planned “to outfox authorities”.
RBS said it recognised their right to protest and had not moved to evict them. A nursery for bank workers’ children was closed as a precaution.
Climate Camp spokeswoman Ruth McTernan said: “It’s been a dramatic start to what will be a week full of workshops, sustainable living and direct action against RBS’s crimes against the climate. We’re in a beautiful location here at Gogarburn. People should come down, have a cup of tea and check out what’s going on for themselves.”
The campers say other protests are expected across Scotland coming into the weekend, with kindred spirits apparently making themselves known near other environmental flashpoints including Glasgow Airport and the proposed site of the Hunterston coal power station.
Protesters have also declared a day of mass action against RBS on Monday, though they are remaining tight-lipped about what exactly this will involve. Some activists have expressed a willingness to be arrested and charged with minor crimes in the pursuit of stopping what they say is a far greater wrong.
A police spokesman said: “Lothian and Borders Police have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest and allow for freedom of assembly.”
Last week, the force wrote to business owners in Edinburgh warning them of potential disruption if the protest went ahead.
A spokeswoman for RBS said yesterday that the bank was involved in a range of projects, and was working to become more environmentally friendly.
“As a major international bank we provide support for businesses working across many industries and reflect the make up of society and the economy,” she said. “Just as society as a whole has to make a transition to renewable energy sources so will banks like RBS. In recent years RBS has been one of the most active banks in the world in providing funding for renewable energy projects so we are at the forefront of helping finance the transition.
“While we understand the protestors’ intent and publicity tactics, we cannot agree with their decision to target RBS.
“We have offered to meet with the leaders of the protest.”
But activist Dan Glass, best-known for supergluing himself to Gordon Brown two years ago, said people would see through the bank’s attempt to “greenwash” its image.
“You cannot take fossil fuels out of the ground in such huge quantities and then build a wind turbine here and there to combat it,” he said.
While some of the protesters are from Edinburgh or the rest of Scotland, others have travelled from across the UK and beyond.
As many as 1000 people are expected to arrive at the camp before the main protest on Monday, the organisers said.
Tar sand riches
The Canadian tar sands are a large deposit of oil-rich bitumen in the north of Alberta made up of a mix of crude bitumen, silica sand, clay minerals and water -- a form of crude oil that impregnates rocks composed mainly of sand and clay.
It is the largest reservoir of crude bitumen in the world and the largest of three major oil sands deposits in Alberta; the Athabasca-Wabiskaw oil sands; the Cold Lake deposits and those in the Peace River, which between them cover an area larger than England.
Greenpeace said the substance is turned into oil through energy-intensive processes that cause widespread environmental damage, polluting the river Athabasca, putting toxins into the air and ravaging farmland.
The group also states large areas of forest are being cut down to pave the way for development of the sands, that it claims are the “fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions” in Canada.