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Authors protest top UK book festival's 'oil investor' sponsor

Plot twist at end of Edinburgh book festival as authors storm off stage in protest of its main sponsor Baillie Gifford over firm’s fossil fuel industry investments

  • Dozens marched in Edinburgh after leaving their panels in protest of the sponsor
  • It comes after Greta Thunberg pulled out of an appearance for the same reason 

Top authors have staged a walkout from one of the UK’s biggest book festivals in protest of its main sponsor’s links to the fossil fuel industry. 

Author and climate activist Mikaela Loach was one of several writers who left their panels at Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday in a stand against the festival’s main sponsor Baillie Gifford, accusing the 115-year-old investment firm of buying into ‘companies who make money from fossil fuels.’

In a video posted to Instagram, the 25-year-old author, whose recently published her first book, ‘It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action to Transform Our World’, was filmed stopping a panel discussion titled ‘Changing the Climate Narrative’ with her own message for audience members:

‘I can’t actually in good faith continue just talking about these issues without doing something, especially give that the festival is sponsored by an investment firm that is bankrolling this climate crisis,’ she said. 

‘Baillie Gifford are an investment firm that have £5 billion of investments in the fossil fuel industry,’ she alleged.  

Mikaela Loach (Furthest right) said she was not happy with Baillie Gifford being the festival’s main sponsor

The author starkly said: ‘I don’t know if my ancestral land will still be there if I have children. And the reason for this is because of investments in fossil fuels’

She was one of several to walk out of their panel appearances over the investment firm’s sponsorship of the top festival

Baillie Gifford manages a staggering $292.8 billion in assets, according to its own reports

The firm hit back, claiming that just 2% of its clients’ money was invested in the fossil fuel industry

The writer, who is of Jamaican descent, added: ‘I think especially recently, if you look across the world, Maui is literally on fire as we’ve seen right now.

‘I don’t know if my ancestral land will still be there if I have children. And the reason for this is because of investments in fossil fuels.

‘The reason for this is because of fossil fuel companies not caring about the climate crisis, whether they say they do or not. So, we have to remove that finance from them, any tactic that we can we have to stop them from being able to exist.

‘Edinburgh Book Festival, you wouldn’t burn books, so why are you burning the planet? Drop Baillie Gifford,’ she demanded. 

After she walked off stage, dozens of protestors then took to the streets of Edinburgh carrying signs and banners that railed against the investment firm.

Fellow author Jessica Gaitan Johannesson, who helped organise the walkout with Loach, said they staged the protest because they ‘care deeply about the festival and its people’ and ‘don’t want to see it contribute to the destruction of people’s lives’. 

The walkout came after climate activist Greta Thunberg pulled out of an appearance at the festival for the same reasons, accusing Ballie Gifford of ‘greenwashing’.

The investment management firm, which manages an eyewatering $292.8 billion in assets, rejected Thunberg’s claims that it invests ‘heavily’ in fossil fuels, saying just 2% of its clients’ money was invested in the sector.

Dozens took to the streets of Edinburgh to protest the investment firm’s involvement with the festival

More than 50 leading authors and writers demanded that the festival find different sponsors if the investment firm did not divest from fossil fuel companies

Thunberg wasn’t the only one who moved against the event’s organisers.  

More than 50 leading authors and writers demanded that Edinburgh International Book Festival find different sponsors if the investment firm did not divest from fossil fuel companies. 

Leading writers including Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, and Gary Younge, all threatened to boycott next year’s event if no action was taken.

In the open letter, dozens accused Baillie Gifford of ‘making huge profits from global disaster’ and claimed the investment management firm wanted to ‘hide behind esteemed cultural institutions, like the Edinburgh Book Festival, as sanction for its continued operations’.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said the festival would consider the authors’ concerns ‘carefully’ and keep an open mind about how to proceed.

Responding to the letter, Mr. Barley said: ‘We fully acknowledge your concerns about the devastating impact of fossil fuel exploitation on the climate: as individuals and and as a charity we firmly agree.

‘For these reasons, we promise to think about your letter carefully. The last thing we want is to let anyone give the impression we are on opposite sides.

‘Just as we promise to listen carefully to you, we ask that you allow us some time to consider your comments. We’d also like to share with you the reasons why we have accepted this sponsorship agreement.

‘Like all arts organisations in the UK, we wouldn’t have enough funds to operate without private sponsorship. We looked very closely at the work of Baillie Gifford and it seems to us that they are, in fact, investing in companies that are seeking to resolve the crisis.’

The investment firm is so closely attached to Edinburgh International Book Festival that the events curated for school-aged children have been put under the ‘Baillie Gifford Schools Programme.’

On top of this, a programme run specifically for primary school children, where pupils aged 11 and under are set to ‘celebrate the power of self-care under the theme “Happy Healthy You”‘, is being run as the Ballie Gifford Gala Day at the end of August.

Former NHS doctor and Strictly Come Dancing star Dr. Ranj Singh is set to speak with primary school-aged children at the event. 

Edinburgh International Book Festival and Baillie Gifford have been contacted for comment.

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