Teenage climate crisis activist takes on industry giants in North Sea oil film

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She is the teenage climate crisis activist from the Highlands who has been hailed as Scotland's answer to Greta Thunberg.

Now 16-year-old Holly Gillibrand is set to become the country's newest film star after being handed a key role in a powerful documentary about the future of Scotland's North Sea oil and gas industry.

Gillibrand is one of the chief critics of pressing ahead over the North Sea in Black Black Oil, which will be premiered by BBC Scotland in the run-up to the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

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The Fort William teenager is prominently featured alongside oil industry executives, scientists, economists, climate change experts and union leaders in the film.

Holly Gillibrand is featured in the new BBC Scotland film Black Black Oil.Holly Gillibrand is featured in the new BBC Scotland film Black Black Oil.
Holly Gillibrand is featured in the new BBC Scotland film Black Black Oil.

Produced by Sonja Henrici and directed by Emma Davie, it is billed as an exploration of whether the era of an “invisible machine powering the UK for decades" is over in the face of predictions about the impact of climate change and demands an urgent shift away from reliance on oil and gas.

Glasgow-born Gillibrand was inspired by Thunberg’s activism – which was captured in the film I Am Greta – to take part in her first climate crisis protests when she was 13.

She was the youngest person named on the BBC Women’s Hour Power List last year, when she was also Young Scotswoman of the Year.

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Speaking in the new film, Gillibrand says: “There are several parts of Fort William threatened with flooding. This will include the main roads and the main rail lines between Fort William and Glasgow.

Holly Gillibrand has been taking part in climate crisis protests since she was 13.Holly Gillibrand has been taking part in climate crisis protests since she was 13.
Holly Gillibrand has been taking part in climate crisis protests since she was 13.

"That means there is going to be transport problem in the future and food supplies might cut out at some point.

“I think that’s basically what eco-anxiety is – being constantly worried about whether or not you’re going to have a future.

"It can feel like you’re up against something that’s so massive, that's got the support of governments and people who are so much more powerful than you. It’s quite difficult sometimes to know what to do to change that.”

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Sir David King, the UK Government's former chief scientific advisor, is among the experts in the documentary warning of the need for urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.

He says: “I don’t believe the global economy will be functioning the way it is today unless we make big, big changes over the next five to 10 years to manage the disaster which is just around the corner.

“What we do over the next five years will determine the future of humanity for the next millennium.

“The thing I am most worried about the is the future for children who will presumably expect to be alive at the end of the century. At the moment it is not looking like the sort of place you’d like to live in.”

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James Marriott, co-author of the book Crude Britannia, says: “If we just take one part of the North Sea, the Forties pipeline system, it is arguably one of the largest machines in Western Europe, possibly the world.

"That is one continuous system running all the way across the seabed, under the fields and forests and rivers, one piece of clockwork, one big machine. We’re effectively living with that running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Holly adds: "If the politicians are saying they’re tackling the current ecological crisis and taking it seriously and then they’re extracting more North Sea oil it is just making the problem deeper.

"You can’t fill in a hole unless you stop digging. We really need to stop digging.

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“I think people will look back on this era of oil and just think about how ridiculous it was.

“We know the current ecological crisis is happening and we know how bad it could get.

“How could you know about such a massive issue and still worry more about profit? It feels a bit surreal in a way.”

Rachel Alexander, a young Glasgow-based climate activist, tells the documentary: “There are so many things happening in the world right now that I’m honestly not sure I could even face bringing a child into the world. If we don’t make a change now we never will.”

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Emeka Emembolu, BP’s senior vice-president, adds: “The world is moving away from an oil and gas economy to a lower carbon economy. We intend to be part of that transition. If we didn’t make the move we wouldn’t exist.

"We will maintain some level of oil and gas production over time, but we are hugely ramping up our investments in non oil and gas forms of energy as well.

"What we’re talking about is changing the infrastructure of the world. That takes time. Maybe a good analogy would be that it is almost like replacing all the veins in the human body.”

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, says: “People absolutely are very concerned about climate charge, as we are a sector.

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"But if we knee-jerk one way or the other then what will happen is we will see people losing their jobs and we will see communities being left behind. That’s not what we think we should be working towards as a sector.

“Between 10 and 20 billion barrels of oil are still out there for us to get after, which represents a massive opportunity for us.

“I guess we have an addiction to oil and gas in our society. Just to stop of it for the sake of stopping it isn’t going to stop the demand that is associated with it.”

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