Home » Eco clowns who could write the book on hypocrisy: How one of the UK’s greenest investment firms has been hounded out of Britain’s literary festivals by rag-tag fanatics who preach about saving the planet – while jetting all over the world

Eco clowns who could write the book on hypocrisy: How one of the UK’s greenest investment firms has been hounded out of Britain’s literary festivals by rag-tag fanatics who preach about saving the planet – while jetting all over the world

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s World At One were subjected to a stern lecture last week, courtesy of a 31-year-old novelist named Yara ­Rodrigues Fowler.

She was introduced as an ‘organiser with Fossil Free Books’, an anonymously-run collective of Left-wing activists who have decided to campaign against investment firm Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of various summer literary festivals.

The finance company is, they contend, bad news for two ­reasons: firstly, it holds shares in some oil and gas companies, and secondly, it invests in firms alleged to be complicit in ‘Israeli ­occupation, apartheid and ­genocide’ in Gaza. As such, Radio 4 listeners were told, book festivals which take Baillie Gifford’s cash are being targeted by vigorous protests, while authors who agree to appear at the events face lobbying to pull out.

Around 800 supporters of this campaign have signed an open letter backing it. Although most are young and relatively obscure, the campaign has been publicly backed by two Corbynist celebrities: singer turned wellness entrepreneur Charlotte Church and TV comic Nish Kumar.

Author and climate activist Mikaela Loach (pictured centre in pink) walked out of her event at Edinburgh International Book Festival, ­hysterically accusing the festival’s main sponsor Baillie Gifford of ‘bankrolling the climate crisis’

And yet Mikaela has no qualms about travelling the globe herself, boasting online about her 'joyful' week in New York

And yet Mikaela has no qualms about travelling the globe herself, boasting online about her ‘joyful’ week in New York 

And another far-flung destination for Mikaela - this time in El Choco, Colombia

And another far-flung destination for Mikaela – this time in El Choco, Colombia

Novelist Yara ­Rodrigues Fowler has, in recent years, holidayed in Brazil, Spain, Bangladesh and Morocco, and in April — as the Fossil Free Books campaign was gathering pace — spent ten days touring New York (pictured) and New Jersey

Novelist Yara ­Rodrigues Fowler has, in recent years, holidayed in Brazil, Spain, Bangladesh and Morocco, and in April — as the Fossil Free Books campaign was gathering pace — spent ten days touring New York (pictured) and New Jersey

‘We do not want our literary life to come at the expense of human rights in other countries,’ was how Rodrigues Fowler described the whole thing. ‘We want to have ­literary events that aren’t sponsored by companies complicit in human rights abuses. We don’t think that is too lofty a dream.’

Lofty or not, we must at this stage stress that her claims against Baillie Gifford barely withstand scrutiny, for reasons we shall explore properly later. And it goes without saying that the world of books is hardly at the nexus of the world’s dirty oil money.

Yet such trifling matters count for little in this era of cancel ­culture. So Rodrigues Fowler and her comrades at Fossil Free Books are having a truly chilling effect on the literary scene.

Indeed, when she went on Radio 4, the Hay and Edinburgh Festivals had already announced that they were cutting ties with the investment firm, citing ‘safety concerns’ and ‘intolerable pressure’ from its campaigners whose methods have ranged from hounding authors on social media to threatening to send protesters to picket their events.

Days later, they were joined by Cheltenham and by Thursday, Baillie Gifford had decided to completely withdraw from the entire UK arts festival circuit, where it was the single biggest source of sponsorship. Bigwigs at the firm have apparently had enough of being subjected to what it regards as an ‘offensively ­misleading’ smear campaign. The move on paper represents a ­stunning victory for Fossil Free Books and its foot soldiers. But behind the scenes there is a growing backlash. For the fallout will be felt by millions of Britons who attend book festivals each ­summer, along with the authors they support.

For one thing, ticket prices will most likely now have to rise, to make up for lost revenue. For another the entire future viability of several large and small events now lies in tatters.

Punters aren’t the only victims, either. The Edinburgh International Book Festival, for example, points that Baillie Gifford has for years provided essential funding for its ‘Children’s and Schools’ programmes, subsidising free tickets to events, free books for every attending pupil, and cut-price travel. ‘Without their contribution, this crucial work simply will not happen,’ it said.

One assumes that Fossil Free Books regards these setbacks as a price worth paying for ridding ­literary circles of a company its activists have chosen to dislike.

Yet whether any right-thinking business, or philanthropist, will risk sponsoring a single British ­literary event in future is now ­anyone’s guess. For dig beneath the surface of this peculiar affair and you’ll soon hit upon a simple truth: that its almost impossible for a major company, or rich ­individual, to pass muster with Rodrigues Fowler and her ­censorious allies.

Take Baillie Gifford, which the Corbynist lobby group has of course chosen to portray as a sort of Great Satan of international finance. It’s a large, Edinburgh-based firm, with 1,800-odd employees and £225billion under management.

Of that sum, a mere one per cent is invested in so-called ‘fossil fuel’ investments, a number which rises to two per cent if you decide to include shares in the likes of Tesco on the (perhaps spurious) grounds that the retailer operates the odd petrol station.

Both figures represent a fraction of the industry average of 11 per cent. Or, to put things another way, Baillie Gifford has chosen to underinvest in fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, it’s supposedly dirty holdings are dwarfed by investments in innovative green energy providers, which make up five per cent of its portfolio. They include the likes of Swedish electric ­vehicle battery maker Northvolt (motto: ‘Make oil history’), ­Climeworks, a company pioneering carbon capture in Iceland, and Solugen, a Texas tech firm developing the world’s first ‘carbon negative’ molecule.

Then there is Tesla, in which it was a significant early investor, helping create a brand that has arguably done more than any other to decarbonise motor ­transport. By directing cash into such firms, Baillie Gifford has, one might argue, been a hero of the rush to so-called ‘net zero’.

It certainly seems to be doing more to address climate change than, to cite one example, ­Charlotte Church.

Yet in the parallel universe of Rodrigues Fowler and her fellow activists, the company (which runs public-sector pension funds and has huge ‘responsible investment’ departments) is somehow beyond the pale.

Among those who think this a bit rum is Mark Lynas, a best­selling, Left-leaning writer of ­campaigning books about the ­climate crisis. He was sufficiently outraged by Hay’s decision to part company with Baillie Gifford to publish a highly-critical essay about Fossil Free Fuels on his website, dubbing it a ‘sad day for climate activism’.

‘Is this a success for the ­campaign to stop the escalating climate emergency?’ asked Lynas. ‘Not in my book . . . Who really wins here? Not a dime has been divested from fossil fuels. Not a gramme of CO2 has been reduced. All that’s happened is that literary festivals now have huge holes in their budgets.’

Fellow activist Andres Ordorica in Hong Kong - one of many holiday hotspots he has enjoyed, including Milan, Bologna, Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Washington DC, San Antonio, Texas,  California and Seville

Fellow activist Andres Ordorica in Hong Kong – one of many holiday hotspots he has enjoyed, including Milan, Bologna, Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Washington DC, San Antonio, Texas,  California and Seville

Climate change is only one arena in which the posturing of Fossil Free Books seems questionable. For its decision also to campaign against Baillie Gifford’s supposed links to Israeli ‘genocide’ is, meanwhile, more sketchy still. Firstly, it’s unclear what the situation in Gaza has to do with being ‘fossil free’. Secondly, there is no obvious reason — aside, perhaps, from an irrational hatred of the world’s only Jewish state — why this lobby group should choose to focus on ‘human rights’ abuses by Israel rather than those committed in countries such as Iran, Russia, and China. Or by the rapists and child murderers of Hamas.

The organisation’s claims that Baillie Gifford is somehow ­‘complicit’ in Israeli war crimes appear to be largely based on the fact that it holds shares in a selection of blue-chip American tech firms, including Amazon, Nvidia, Alphabet and Meta, the parent ­company of Facebook.

According to Fossil Free Books, those corporations have ‘links to Israeli occupation, security apparatus and genocide’. How so? Apparently, because an infinitesimally tiny portion of their global income derives from contracts with the country’s government.

Does that merit a cancellation campaign? Not according to, among others, Philippe Sands KC, a human rights lawyer who is ­acting for Palestinians at the International Court of Justice. He recently gave a lecture saying that, having ‘looked at this very carefully’, he believed the campaign against Baillie Gifford was based on ‘tenuous’ evidence. He further dubbed the Fossil Free Books boycott a ‘desecration of books, a desecration of the idea of literature’ and called on them to stop trying to ‘trash’ people with whom they disagree.

Chance would, on that front, be a very fine thing. For this is an ultra-zealous campaign whose supporters demand absolute moral purity from every person, or organisation, they come across. Aside, that is, from themselves.

Take, for example, the aforementioned Yara Rodrigues Fowler. When she’s not subjecting Baillie Gifford’s carbon footprint to severe (and sanctimonious) ­scrutiny, the award-winning ­novelist appears to devote a hefty portion of her free time to long-haul travel. She has in recent years holidayed in Brazil, Spain, Bangladesh and Morocco, and in April — as the Fossil Free Books campaign was gathering pace — spent ten days touring New York and New Jersey.

During the latter trip, she gave a lecture at Princeton University entitled ‘feminist soapbox’, with her guests told that: ‘Her next book, currently a work in progress, will be a literary account of the life of Princess Diana through a ­formally experimental, Marxist, feminist, anti-imperialist lens.’

Assuming she didn’t get to this event via transatlantic sailing boat, it’s hard to see how Rodrigues Fowler justifies such gallivanting, given her ultra-puritanical approach to combating the so-called ‘climate emergency’.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end there, either. For she has also decided to post images of these jolly trips on Instagram. That social media site is owned by Meta, one of the firms her lobby group is supposed to be forcing others to boycott.

Requiring others to do as you say, rather than what you do is part of the modus operandi of Fossil Free Books. How else could it, for example, choose to run its external communications via Gmail, the email service provided by the (supposedly) genocide-supporting Alphabet?

The Fossil Free Books campaign was started after campaigners complained that the Edinburgh International Book Festival was being sponsored by Baillie Gifford, which had investments in some ­fossil fuel companies.

The Fossil Free Books campaign was started after campaigners complained that the Edinburgh International Book Festival was being sponsored by Baillie Gifford, which had investments in some ­fossil fuel companies.

Another key feature is sloppiness. It has, for example, accused Baillie Gifford of holding stock in oil company Shell. As a basic search of shareholder registers will tell you, that is untrue. And its ‘manifesto’ cites Norway’s sovereign wealth fund as a responsible investor, when the fund in question owes its very existence to the country’s oil revenues.

The Fossil Free Books campaign dates back to last summer, when eco-campaigner Greta Thunberg was due to make an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This inspired a somewhat obscure Scottish news blog named The Ferret to point out that the event would be sponsored by Baillie Gifford, which in turn had investments in some ­fossil fuel companies.

Thunberg promptly pulled out. Within a few days, around 50 authors and event chairs had been persuaded to sign an open letter criticising the festival’s partnership with the company.

One of the ringleaders, Mikaela Loach, then made further headlines by getting up and walking out of her event there, ­hysterically accusing the finance company of ‘bankrolling the climate crisis’.

Loach, who was educated at the £36,000-a-year public school Hurstpierpoint College (though she almost never volunteers this fact), is the sort of privileged ­climate change activist one might hire from central casting.

A former medical student, she appears to have become politicised at Edinburgh University, taking part in Extinction ­Rebellion protests and fronting a failed effort to sue the Government over its oil exploration ­policy in the North Sea.

After dropping out of university to become a full-time eco-warrior, the dyed-in-the-wool Corbynista (she once shared a stage with the disgraced former Labour leader) then published a book titled It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action To Transform Our World.

One piece of climate action that would ‘transform’ the world would, of course, be for rich Westerners to stop flying to exotic tourist destinations. A couple of years back, Loach published an article in which she ‘shared her journey to going flight free as well as top tips to others who want to make the change’.

It’s unclear whether she remains ‘flight free’ but seven weeks ago she could be found on the Caribbean Island of Saint Martin, at a ‘climate justice camp’, and in January was on the beaches of Jamiaica. Last year, she popped up in Lebanon, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris.

Another ‘organiser’ for the eco-fascist lobby group is Andres Ordorica, who calls himself a ‘queer LatinX writer based in Edinburgh’. His list of recent holiday destinations reads like some sort of parody: it includes Milan, Bologna, Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Washington DC, San Antonio, Texas, Hong Kong, California and Seville. And Nish Kumar, the TV comic backing their campaign, fronts a travel series in which he’s toured, among other destinations, New Zealand, Japan, ­Mongolia, Kenya, China, Mexico and the Philippines.

If these modern-day puritans actually held themselves to the high standards they require of others, they would holiday in the UK, throw away their iPhones, log off social media and ban ­Amazon from selling their books.

They might also prevent Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, the biggest bookstore chains in the UK and US, from stocking their work, since they are owned by Elliott Advisors, a hedge fund with huge oil and gas interests.

Arguably, they’d never actually publish a book in the first place, since paper-making is an energy-intensive industry, reliant on ­petrochemicals. That, however, would require personal sacrifice and integrity — virtues that seem entirely at odds with the moral universe that today’s hypocritical zealots inhabit.