Art and oil. More and more artists are starting to speak up against the fossil fuel industry.
While students are putting pressure on their colleges and universities to divest – dis-invest – in fossil fuel projects, others are putting pressure on their superannuation and pension funds to do the same. In the arts sector, artists and activist combined are beginning to walk a similar path around the arts institutions which receive donations and sponsorship from oil companies.
Blog-post by Mik Aidt, Centre for Climate Safety
Do you think artists have a responsibility to speak up?
“Yes. Artists must live with reality, the real reality, and not The Consensus. Otherwise you cannot be a true artist. You don’t need to be extremist in order to speak up, no need to live in a cave without electricity in order to arrest environment exploiting business. Artist mustn’t be so be afraid of being banal or inconsistent. After all, that’s why we have the arts, to give the society some new ideas.”
Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, Norwegian musician.
Interviewed by Lasse Marhaug, April 2012. Published in Personal Best #2 in August 2012
International websites such as Art Not Oil, Platform London, End oil-sponsorship of the arts, Concerned Artists Norway, and the Norwegian campaign Stop oil sponsoring of Norwegian cultural life are bringing out more or less the same message: “It’s time to say enough is enough: oil sponsorship of the arts, sports, culture and education has to end.”
“Whether it’s BP’s sponsorship of the Tate galleries, Shell’s funding for the Southbank Centre or Tullow Oil’s controversial deals with Sunderland football club oil company sponsorship of the arts is a familiar phenomenon,” writes Platform, a group which combine art, activism, education and research in one organisation.
Spy thriller theatre performance about oil
From 10 to 21 June 2013, Platform will be staging a theatre performance three times daily on weekdays. The show is entitled ‘Two Degrees: Oil City’ at the Toynbee Studios in London. “A spy thriller for the post-occupy era,” they call it:
“This new piece of site-specific immersive theatre by Platform takes you deep into the underbelly of London’s oil economy. Around you the financial sector shimmers in high-rise office blocks. Behind closed doors deals are done and oil projects financed with few questions asked. Meanwhile vast swathes of Alberta, Canada, teeter on the brink of ecological disaster, as the struggle to stop tar sands mining of lands protected under the First Nations’ Treaty goes on.
By eavesdropping on business people and seeking out secret documents hidden in dead-drops, you will help piece together a puzzle that interweaves government files with financial deals. But whose truth counts? And what laws apply when lives are on the line but big profits are to be made?”
Alongside the performance, a mobile website is available to explore the real story in both London and Calgary.
Trailer for ‘Oil City’ published on YouTube.com on 28 May 2013.
You can book ticket for the performance here: artsadmin.co.uk/events/3345
Home page: oilcity.org.uk
Artists raising money to combat climate change
‘Oil City’ is supported by Artists’ Project Earth — an initiative which has funded over 300 projects and awareness-raising initiatives around the world that combat climate change and develop local resilience and solutions to climate injustice. The money for the initiative is raised via sales of five fundraising albums. (A course I personally find worth supporting, so – commercial break! – they get a little free ad here for their latest album:)
…and, you may now continue reading…
Tate and BP
For more than a decade, Platform has been mapping out the network of relationships between oil and gas companies and the government departments, regulators, cultural institutions, banks and other institutions that surround them. They call this the ‘Carbon Web’.
Platform’s overall aim is to sever the links between oil companies and the institutions that facilitate extraction. They campaign against private banks financing harmful fossil fuel projects, and their ‘Licence to Spill’ project challenges BP’s sponsorship of Tate.
“Tate has the largest cultural membership scheme in the country, and Tate derives £5 million every year from membership fees, so you think it would take seriously the concerns of those members when they express dissatisfaction with being associated with disreputable entities like BP. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have been the case.”
In December 2012, a number of Tate Members wrote a letter to the Tate Members Council to raise concerns about the controversial sponsorship deal with BP, and some of those signatories went to the Tate Members Annual General Meeting to discuss the issues face to face. The Annual General Meeting was reportedly dominated by the issue, with critical questions coming from many different quarters and not just the signatories.
You can read the full transcript of the questions here: liberatetate.wordpress.com
• Liberate Tate:
The Norwegian Oil Money
In March 2013, British artists stated that they could no longer engage with the Bergen International Festival because of its Statoil sponsorship. This has now turned into a more sustained debate in Norway about the role that the oil company plays in the cultural sector.
In the days before Statoil’s general assembly comments and protests were flying across Facebook on the topic, saying ‘Dirty oil and sustainability does not mix. Statoil out of the tar sands’. A community page was started under the title, ‘Stop oil sponsoring of Norwegian cultural life’
“We are a network of artists, who are concerned about the developments in relation to eco-crisis and climate change, inaction and paralysis. We want to use our artistic input to the best of earth, globe, planet, atmosphere, oceans, animals, insects. We look at politicians and the press and think. This is so weird. Have we come up short? Where’s the will to change and power to act?”
On Facebook, the Norwegian artists speak up against what they call “the aggressive exploitation of oil and gas companies sponsoring culture, sports and education”:
“The oil and gas companies buy into the core areas of growth and development to improve its reputation. We want our culture out of this relationship,” wrote the Stop Oil Sponsoring Facebook group which was launched on 27 April 2013.
Also in April 2013, a petition was signed by 274 Norwegian authors said that Statoil must withdraw from its continued engagement in Canada’s tar sands. “It is embarrassing for Norway,” they stated in a national Norwegian newspaper:
“Norway’s international reputation as a good climate campaigner can only persist if Statoil withdraws from the tar sands project in Canada. We sharply distance ourselves from Statoil’s current project in Canada, because this causes major carbon emissions that contribute to climate degradation, and because strong economic interests puts free speech principle at risk. Extraction of tar sands is incompatible with the international goal that global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees. Statoil must withdraw.” (Continue reading here)
On 21 May 2013, the Norwegian authors founded ‘Writers’ Climate Action – § 110b’ within the frame of not only the Norwegian Authors’ Union, but of every writer organisation in the country who were all present at the inaugural meeting.
As stated in the campaign’s name, the Norwegian Constitution’s old ‘environmental statement’, § 110b, forms the guideline for their work:
“Everyone has a right to an environment that ensures good health and to nature whose productivity and diversity is preserved. The resources of nature should be allocated from a long-term and versatile consideration, which also protects this right for future generations. In order to addressed this right, citizens are eligible to knowledge about the condition of the environment and the effect which planned interferances or encroachments on nature will have.”
According to their press release, Writers’ Climate Action “intend to use their literary works to counteract anthropogenic climate change. It shall include direct criticism against the oil and gas industry’s power over Norwegian social and cultural life. Climate change and the impact on tomorrow’s nature and future generations is an important issue for us, and therefore we are particular addressing young people. We receive financial support from the Norwegian Authors’ Union, Norwegian Non-Fiction Writers Association, the Norwegian Ministry of Children, Norwegian Authors of Children and Youth Books, and Norwegian Playwrights’ Association.
The severe climate situation calls for an intensification of the public space and the public discussion. Authors’ Climate Action – § 110b’s ambition is to be at the forefront of this democratic volunteer work, and at the constitution anniversary next year we plan literary and artistic manifestations. We also participate in Klimavalg 2013 [a broad alliance of Norwegian organisations and societies “with a clear demand for a more responsible Norwegian climate policy”].
As language workers, we want to translate, expose and illustrate the political ‘tongue-twisting’ and the corporate world’s ‘smooth talk’. Whatever the Constitution symbolises, the ‘environmental clause’ 110b is visionary and radical on the environment’s behalf. It is being broken every day!”
Norwegian Authors’ Union – 30 May 2013:
Forfatternes klimaaksjon – §110b stiftet
Klimavalg2013.no – 29 May 2013:
Forfatternes klimaaksjon §110 b: Initiativtaker Freddy Fjellheim
Den Norske Forfatterforening — 13 April 2013:
274 forfattere ut mot Statoils tjæresandprosjekt i Canada
Dagbladet — 12 April 2013:
Norske forfattere: — Statoil må trekke seg ut
“Dirty as hell”
“I find it disgusting how Statoil is attempting to sneak their propaganda in on what should have been the society’s correction: the arts. Statoil is a commercial oil company and their goal is to earn money from oil. It is in their interest to mute the critics against unethical projects, like the tar sand extraction – dirty as hell – and embarrassing for Norway,” said musician Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje in an interview for Personal Best #2, August 2012.
According to Maja Ratkje and the Stop Oil Sponsoring Facebook group she co-founded, the Norwegian and international oil and gas companies work very closely with the Norwegian cultural scene, and the oil revenues sponsor a growing share of both amateur and professional culture in Norway. Around 40,000 people work in the oil and gas industry in the country, earning huge sums of money.
“This started just a few years ago. Statoil wants to buy credibility in all art fields. They have a support page on Facebook, and you can find some of Norway’s finest musicians — classical as well as pop, rock and jazz – under Statoil’s program called Heroes of Tomorrow. Each artist has their own web page under Statoil and you can read about their careers and see their Facebook-posts.
I am worried about these artist’s reputation abroad as these pages are in English as well. Sadly, I also think that having people like Leif Ove Andsnes – the most famous Norwegian classical musician – is demoralizing a lot of people connected to the music life in Norway. Like, how can you criticize a god like Leif Ove Andsnes? The same goes of course with pop-stars like Ingrid Olava, Ida Maria or Kvelertak. These people are role-models for a whole generation of youths. But don’t misunderstand, I want to attack Statoil’s dirty business, not the artists,” Maja Ratkje explained.
“The cultural sponsorship more than just a cheap marketing strategy; not only do they greenwash the unethical practices of these companies, they also place a significant proportion of our creative and resourceful young people in a position of gratitude and servility to the oil companies, purchasing a place at the heart of our culture, education and sports.”
“Many people in Norway think that Statoil’s money is practically the same as public money, since the Norwegian government owns the majority of the shares. Although it is true that the Norwegian government owns 66 percent of the shares in Statoil, it is not a public company. It is a private company, run by a board of directors that are independent of the government and its shareholders. The government rarely uses its shareholder power to influence the direction of the company’s policies. Statoil cannot, and must not, be seen as equivalent to public money. Statoil is an energy company whose purpose is energy production and resource extraction. It is not their responsibility to fulfill the policies of the government. Arts funding is a public responsibility, and Statoil’s generosity is nothing but a strategy they use to gain credibility and a good reputation, thereby greenwashing their harmful and dubious practices in Norway and abroad,” wrote the Stop Oil Sponsoring group:
“We believe oil sponsorship is directly unethical given that the companies are engaged in the extraction of tar sands in Canada, have investments in corrupt regimes and generally push hard for increased production on the Norwegian continental shelf — activities that threaten the future of the young generations they claim to want to support.
We are tired of the oil companies sponsoring Norwegian culture and we want to give all those directly or indirectly affected by oil sponsoring an opportunity to say that they disagree with the oil companies’ operations. Our culture can do without dirty money.”
Statoil supports many of the most important music festivals for young people in Norway, including UKA and by:Larm, as well as sports teams that foster young people’s futures as arenas where they can grow, develop and play. Many Norwegian musicians allegedly have rejected or heavily criticised the over £100,000 sponsorship grant Statoil offers to the winners of a competition at the by:Larm festival.
A more recent and hotly debated partnership is the Swedish petroleum giant Lundin and the newly opened Astrup Fearnley museum in Oslo. “Lundin is known as one of the worst in the oil business and is under investigation for breaching humanitarian rights in Sudan”, Jonas Ekeberg, editor-in-chief of the largely state-funded art magazine Kunstkritikk, was quoted as saying. Similar protests were made earlier in 2012 when the Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm accepted sponsorship from Lundin Petroleum.
The Art Newspaper – 22 November 2012:
Astrup Fearnley Museum criticised over oil company sponsorship
Outrage over private museum’s decision to accept funds from Lundin Petroleum. By Clemens Bomsdorf.
On 10 May 2013, an “on and offshore-opera” which criticizes the petroleum industry’s dominance in society premiered in Norway. It was commissioned by The Norwegian Opera & Ballet and directed by Kjersti Horn.
‘Khairos’ is the story of a man who is hypersensitive to sounds. Even the sound of a leaf blowing in a park can drive him crazy, and he ends up killing an engineer. To serve his penalty he is sent to work on an oilrig in the sea, and when his good hearing is discovered, he ends up replacing the seismic instruments for finding new oil reserves.
According to the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, the artists behind the performances and the film have expressed that they were surprised when they learned that not more cultural groups have been dealing with the oil industry so far.
“It’s strange, because it is right outside our doorway and is a mainstay of our economy,” the poet Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen, who wrote the libretto of the opera, told Dagsavisen.
He told Dagsavisen’s Bente Rognan Gravklev that he is morally offended by what is going on: “We have had a debate about nationalism in Norway recently, but I think it’s even worse that we are in the process of becoming imperialists because of our oil industry.”
In 2012, a theatre production entitled ‘Ship o’hoi’ by Pia Maria Roll put attention to a similar Statoil-critical theme, focusing more on Statoils enterprises outside the country. The play took up a manuscript from a play from 1977, ‘Deep Sea Thriller’. Bente Rognan Gravklev interviewed Pia Maria Roll who said that she experienced the reactions from the audience as a kind of shock. “The oil industry is terribly problematic both from a solidarity perspective and from an environmental perspective,” Pia Maria Roll said. “Many people walk around with a constant trauma when they are reminded, or informed about, how bad it is.”
Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen and Pia Maria Roll both believe art can help to influence people’s views on the oil industry.
“So far there has hardly been any cultural expression focusing on the oil industry. Disturbingly few, I would say. This is about to change. There will be a lot of energy put into creating an image of ‘The Norwegian’ as a completely amoral narcissist who is trembling by the thought that the oil will run out. This is a national identity that describes the oil industry very well. The discussion about who we are and what we want is important. Art can contribute to that discussion,” said Pia Maria Roll .
“I can not be a politician, but I can be a poetic propagandist. I truly believe that the wording can change people’s way of thinking. ‘Art can not change us,’ they say, but hey, isn’t that what communication consultants do every day? The artistic and theatrical expressions can build up a kind of anti-credo. In particular I hope that young people will come and see the show,” said Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen.
The article by Gravklev also mentions a new oil industry feature movie entitled ‘Pioneer’ which will premiere in Norwegian cinemas on 30 August 2013. It tells the story about the North Sea divers and the beginning of the Norwegian so-called “oil adventure”. Axel Hennie who has acted in a number of successful Norwegian movies plays the leading role.
Dagsavisen – 10 May 2013:
Driving the oil industry into the limelight
Poet Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen is outraged over the development in the oil-society Norway and offers an oil critical opera. Also other cultural actors are attacking the oil. Article by Bente Rognan Gravklev
Encourage individual actions and protests
“We wish to encourage and inspire all actors on the cultural scene to think thoroughly about ethics and sustainability, and to reject sources of finance that clash with these values. The music festival Øya-festivalen has made serious commitments to sustainable practices, and is an excellent example that there are alternatives when there is will to make changes. Another example is the Church of Norway, which has withdrawn its shares in Statoil because of the tar sands.
Individuals have also shown that it is possible to make demands on employers who are sponsored by oil, and to clearly mark their position against these relationships – even when they accept single commissions from festivals who are sponsored by these oil and gas companies. Demands can be made by us all! We encourage individual actions and protests, but acknowledge that the greatest responsibility to take action lies with the leaders of the cultural sector.
There is an old, Norwegian proverb that says it is never too late to turn around and choose a different route. We hope many more will join us in turning the tide and refuse to be a buoyancy aid for these companies,” wrote Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv campaign.
• Aftenposten — 16 May 2013:
Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv!
By Elin Øyen Vister, kunstner, Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, komponist og musiker og Ragnhild Freng Dale, kunstner og masterstudent ved Universitetet i Bergen
• Aftenposten — 22 May 2013:
Hva med pressestøtte direkte fra Statoil?
By Maja S. K. Ratkje, Ragnhild Freng Dale, Elin Vister alle Aksjonsgruppen Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv
• Platform London — 13 May 2013:
Growing unease in Norway over Statoil and cultural sponsorship
Norwegian prize to Bill McKibben
I wonder if artists in the other Nordic countries are listening? Denmark drills for oil in the North Sea just like Norway, and has started a number of tar sands projects. But so far the Danish artists have not spoken up very loudly. On the contrary, as I reported in February 2013, leading Danish authors seem to believe they have more important things to write about than climate change.
To my knowledge, Denmark only has very few artists who consistently work on creating art and artistic expressions around the issue of climate change. Let alone the arts institutions and organisations. The single artist I know of who stands out in this respect is Thierry Geoffroy, also known as Colonel. But then again, he is currently in Italy with an international group of artists preparing for the 55th Venice Biennale where Colonel takes part in, well, not Denmark’s but the Maldives’ national art exhibition.
I didn’t hear one Danish artists express their opinions, in art or in words, when the so-called ‘Climate Minister’ Martin Lidegaard in the beginning of May 2013 told newspapers that he was “excited and happy” because no less than 31 oil companies had shown interest in and “appetite for” drilling up even more oil in the Danish part of the North Sea. In full and open hypocrisy, the Danish government is going to issue new licence to drill later this year.
They are also opening up for permitting fracking in two places in the country, the shale gas drilling technique which the Norwegian opposed so strongly against that Statoil is carrying out in Canada.
Not a single blurb, however, is heard from the Danish Authors’ Society, or the Council of Danish Artists, an umbrella organisation which represents over 30,000 professional artists of all disciplines in the country.
And… not to mention — how about the artists in the rest of the oil drilling and gas escavating world? I have been waiting for a good while to find signs of their arrival on the carbon frontier.
Speaking of Norway: In three months time, the American climate and anti-oil activist Bill McKibben will be given 100,000 US dollars and a prize by a Norwegian author. The 52-year-old American journalist, author and environmentalist receives the Norwegian ‘Sophie Prize 2013’ for his mobilising force to fight global warming. The Sophie Prize is funded by the income from the bestselling book in the world, which was written by the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder.
The Sophie Prize jury found that Bill McKibben in only a few years “has demonstrated a remarkable mobilising force, building a global, social movement, fighting to preserve a sustainable planet.”
The Norwegians are, in other words, inviting one of the world’s most famous anti-oil activists to Oil Country. Day after day, in halls in front of thousands of people, and on television screens broadcasted to millions, Bill McKibben strongly critizes the oil companies that, in his words, “want to take away our planet and our future.”
On a recent campaign tour which took him from one college to another across America, he laid out the oil figures and did the maths like this:
Mckibben: “These companies are a rogue force”
Rex Tillerson, CEO of the world’s most profitable company, Exxon, makes 100,000 US dollars a day, just for himself and his family. The Top Five oil companies — Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips — made 375 million US dollars in profit every day in 2012. They received $6.6 million a day in US Federal tax breaks. And… wow!: according to Bill McKibben, they spend $440,000 per day lobbying the so-called democratic institution called the American Congress, which, according to President Obama’s office, contains 109 climate deniers.
“These companies are a rogue force. They are outlaws. They are not outlaws against the laws of the state – they get to write those for the most part – but they are outlaws against the laws of physics,” Bill McKibben asserts, because, “If they carry out their business plans, the planet tanks. Exxon alone, one company, has seven percent of the carbon in its reserves necessary to take us past that red line. What the numbers show is that the fossil fuel industry is now a rogue industry, determined to do things that everybody who studies this knows are unwise, unsafe, crazy.”
“The time is now to stop fueling climate disaster on US taxpayers’ dime. We demand Congress and the President work together to eliminate ALL subsidies to fossil fuels. We, and our children, cannot afford the more than $10 billion per year in handouts from the US government to Big Oil, Gas and Coal.”
The campaign ‘Exxon Hates Your Children’
‘Exxon Hates Your Children’ is a crowdfunded campaign spearheaded by Oil Change International with assistance from the activist groups Environmental Action and The Other 98%. Read more
The video was published on YouTube.com on 5 December 2012.
“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson
The Washington Post – 29 May 2013:
Exxon Mobil shareholders vote down resolutions on discrimination, climate change, gas drilling
A call from shareholders to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from using Exxon products was defeated at the company’s annual meeting. For the seventh time, almost three-quarters of Exxon shareholders voted down a resolution that would require the company to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from using Exxon products.
“Bill McKibben’s Thought Bubble: The Fight of Our Time” – published on YouTube.com on 9 August 2012
The Maths: 565 versus 2,795 gigaton CO2
“We have all the engineers and entrepeneurs we need. The thing that is holding us back above all else is the simple fact that the fossil fuel industry cheats. Alone of all industries they are allowed to pour out all their waste for free.”
The maths which Bill McKibben — and the title of his documentary film — refer to are some other figures: Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees Celcius. But the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies — the fossil fuel we are currently planning to burn — amounts to 2,795 gigatons. The key point is that this number — 2,795 — is higher than 565. Five times higher.
This is the “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”, which Bill McKibben described in July 2012 in his by now quite famous article in the American music magazine Rolling Stone.
At the present rate we’ll hit 565 gigatonnes in a mere 16 years. After which, if we are serious, we will have to stop emitting carbon altogether. Markets, however, are gambling trillions of dollars on a bet that governments will never seriously curb carbon emissions. Current share prices declare that no climate mitigation will happen.
By a period of catastrophic climate damage and food shortages sudden action may be forced on governments. This would cause a global collapse of the energy industry greater than the crash of 2007-08. The oil industry and our governments are gambling with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and the livelihoods of billions. More governmental licenses to drill literally are becoming a ‘licence to kill’ — to kill future life on the planet in large scale.
Scientists have estimated that about 40 percent of all species, including millions of human beings, will be killed by the carbon-driven climate change within just two or three generations.
So far the switch to renewables has had no effect on global carbon emissions, which are increasing by about 3 percent a year. New technologies have often not supplanted the old but simply added to the mix: the appetite of the world’s population for burning energy, including carbon energy, is insatiable.
“Meanwhile, we have the fossil-fuel lobby: a modern version of the Catholic church refusing to admit the evidence of Galileo’s telescope. The church apologised 367 years later. The lobbyists for the dirty black stuff are just as wrong and will be proved to be so. But any (at present, most unlikely) apology from them is going to be too late for us all,” wrote The Guardian’s Peter Forbes in his review of Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark new book, ‘The Burning Question’
The 42-minute version of ‘Do the Math’ tells the story of the rising movement to change the terrifying math of the climate crisis and fight the fossil fuel industry:
If you can’t find time to watch the 42 minutes film right now, you can watch this 2-minute trailer in the meanwhile:
And there are loads of other videos with Bill McKibben on youtube.com
“Nobody should be able to pollute for free. You can’t — I can’t. We can’t walk out of here and go litter for free. If you do that, you get a fine. If you run a small business, you can’t just dump all the garbage in the road. You got to pay to have it halled away, or you get a fine. The only people who can pollute for free are these mega-polluters when it comes to carbon — Big Oil, Big Coal. If you get a 25 dollar fine for littering, you are going to pay 25 dollars more than all of the industrial polluters have ever paid in 150 years for the carbon they have been dumping. That is how wacked this whole thing is,” says Van Jones, CEO of Rebuild the Dream, in the documentary film.
McKibben: “It is almost how we define civilization: you pick up after yourself. Unless you are the fossil fuel industry. Then you pour that carbon into the atmosphere for free, and that is the advantage they have, which keeps us from getting renewable energy at the pace that we need. We should internalize that externality. The only reason that we haven’t done that is that it would impair somewhat the record profitability of the fossil fuel industry, and so they have battled that every turn to keep it from happening. These are rogue companies now. Once upon a time they served a useful social function.”
Oil companies are not paying the full price, according to Bill McKibben:
“This industry has behaved so recklessly that that they should lose their social license, their venier of respectability. We need these guys to be understood, those outlaws against the laws of physics, we need to take away some of their power, and there is a lot of ways we are going to do it. One tool, the first tool, is divestment. We are going to ask or demand that institutions like colleges and churches sell their stock in these companies. The logic could not be simpler: If it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. That argument has worked in a big way exactly once in US history,” during the apartheid in South Africa.
Bill McKibben made what I consider a brilliant, if not historic, guest sermon about this in New York City’s Riverside Church in late April:
Published on YouTube.com on 29 April 2013. (Duration: 22 minutes – where the first 5:30 minutes can easily be skipped or fast-forwarded through).
“We don’t act, and for a particular reason, one that will be clear to those who read the Gospels. Our richest people don’t want to act, because it would reduce their wealth somewhat. The fossil fuel industry is the one percent of the one percent, the richest enterprise in human history. Exxon made more money last year than any company in the history of money. There are far more eminent theologians than me in this room, (I am not a theologian at all), but it is my belief anyway that these companies have more money than God,” said Bill McKibben. “If you are poor in this world right now, the future bears down harder on you.”
“What the fossil fuel industry is doing is locking us into a future that we know we can’t survive. That humanity cannot survive. And we know this because just at the end of 2012 we heard this from three conservative sources simultanously,” American author Naomi Klein is filmed stating in ‘Do the Math’, referring among others to the reports from the World Bank, ‘Turn Down the Heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided’, and from the International Energy Agency in November 2012 — reports that calculated that the measures suggested to tackle climate change are unlikely to keep temperature rise below three degrees.
“As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will continue to be used. The solution is to begin to put a price on carbon emissions,” suggested climatologist Dr James Hansen, who at the time he was interviewed for the film was the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute. He elaborated on this topic in a speech he gave on 3 May 2013 on the occasion that he was also given a prize. James Hansen advocates for “putting an honest price on fossil fuels” by taking a fee from the oil industry and passing it on directly to each individual citizen:
A transcript of James Hansen’s speech can be found here
“The first rule of holes is that when you are in one, stop digging,” says Bill McKibben in ‘Do the Math’. “It seems like it is the thing that’s required now, and I think, it is probably required in an awful lot of us to do things that are a little hard for us. Make a little noise. Be a little uncomfortable. Push other people to be a little unconfortable. This is really the fight of our time.”
Dear artists: Let this be your wake-up call
I can’t say this with large enough letters: It is not the Earth or nature there is something wrong with. It is us, the human beings who are wrong. We don’t seem to understand. So who, then, is going to make us understand?
I believe this is where the artists, the artists unions and the arts institutions should step in, right now. The art world with all its inginuity and imagination could make a huge difference by making people understand what is going on — and why we need to change our behaviour. Why there is a battle to be fought, and we all need to take part in that, by reducing our individual CO2 footprint and creating political pressure — which among many things other means: by buying less oil and gas, simply.
More and more artists have realised this and are using their art in the “awareness battle”, joining the movement which Bill McKibben, Al Gore and many others have been advocating for – one where we begin to take responsibility for our common future, for climate safety, and where we, the ordinary citizens, take the unexpected role as front figures in a fossil fuel resistance movement.
PS: I encourage you to copy/paste or translate this article, or parts of it, into the language of your country and distribute it to among artists and arts organisations. If you do so, please let me know, so I can tell about it on this page.
Make Art Not Oil
On Saturday 15 June from 11am to 7pm plus afterparty, a skill-based workshop is timed to coincide with the G8 Summit and Meltdown Festival in London, taking place in the Shell-sponsored Southbank Centre. Throughout the day a group of artists concerned with environmental issues, and activists interested in learning more about creative approaches to resistance will. The organisers write:
“• Explore how sponsorship of the arts by oil companies damages not only the environment, but also the UK art scene
• Learn skills useful for creative interventions including live-streaming, campaigning and research, social media and many more!
• Network with others who share similar concerns, possibly leading to an intervention at the Meltdown Festival later in the week”
The Guardian – 16 June 2013:
‘PetroKoch’: an art project for the Metropolitan Museum
As David Koch gets his name on the Met’s new plaza, why not add Detroit’s pile of his tar-sands sludge as an installation? By Jeff McMahon
Common Dreams / TomDispatch.com – 23 May 2013:
The Biggest Criminal Enterprise in History
Terracide and the terrarists destroying the planet for record profits. By Tom Engelhardt
Artist publishes book about ‘dirty oil and government censorship’
The ‘troublesome’ Canadian artist Franke James says that Canada’s Conservative government targeted, monitored and blacklisted her climate change artwork because it criticises the oil and gas industry’s environmental performance and clashes with the Canadian government’s push to develop Alberta’s tar sands.
In 2011, the Canadian artist Franke James was supposed to have her work exhibited in 20 European cities. But the local NGO that was sponsoring her was allegedly bullied and intimidated so badly by Canadian officials that it pulled out and the entire show was canceled. A spokesperson for the government had explained that Ms. James’ show was about climate change and her opinions were contrary to those of the government.
However, Franke James does not intend to keep quiet about what she experienced — now she is publishing a graphic 368-page book, ‘Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship’, about the ordeal which features passages from more than 2,100 pages of official memos, internal federal emails, and other records.
125 funders supported her crowdfunding-initiative on Indiegogo.com to advertise her cause in the Hill Times, an Ottawa political weekly, and to launch an outdoor campaign Monday in the capital. She managed to raise over 5,000 US dollars already a month before the fundraising deadline, and her ad began appearing in the Hill Times on 20 May 2013 with the headline: “Do not talk about climate change. It is against government policy.”
American climate activist and founder of the organisation 350.org, Bill McKibben, was quoted as saying: “The Canadian government has clamped down on scientists who tell the truth about the tarsands, and it’s tried to shut up artists too. Happily, Franke James is indefatigable.”
Franke James hopes her book will be a how-to guide for other activists.
Relevant additional information
Academic Matters – 30 May 2013:
Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy
Canada’s scientists are so frustrated with their government’s overhaul of scientific communications policies and cuts to research programs they took to the streets, marching on Parliament Hill last summer to decry the “Death of Evidence.” Their concerns — expressed on their protest banners — followed a precise logic: “no science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.” By Carol Linnitt
Free Speech TV: Exposing The Climate Criminals
“This is a new type of corporate criminal conduct,” said tv-host Mike Papantonio in the 26 May episode of ‘Ring of Fire’ on Free Speech TV in the US. He interviewed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., author of the 2011-book ‘Crimes Against Nature’.
This video-clip was published on YouTube.com on 28 May 2013.
274 authors speak out against Statoil’s tar sands project in Canada
274 Norwegian writers have signed a petition which calls on the Statoil group to end its involvement in tar sands in Canada. The petition is printed in Dagbladet today on the op-ed space spread over two pages in the newspaper.
The petition states that “we distance ourselves sharply from Statoil’s current tar sands project in Canada, because this results in carbon emissions that contribute to climate destruction, and because strong economic interests puts the principle of free speech at risk. Extraction of tar sands is not consistent with the international goal of the global temperature must not rise more than two degrees. Statoil must withdraw.”
Climate expertise warns against the devastating global consequences of picking up all the energy reserves in the form of coal and oil. At least two thirds of the resources must stay in the ground if we are to have a 50 percent chance to reach the two-degree target. If Statoil withdraws from tar sands project, this will be an important step in the right direction for future generations.
Canada’s tar sands reserves in Alberta are spread over an area of about 140,000 square kilometers. When oil companies extract tar sands in Alberta, they carry out destruction and fragmentation of unique forest and wetlands in areas that resemble the southern part of Norway. Where before there was large biodiversity, the landscape is shredded and forests are completely fragmented. The work at the open mines swirl up heavy metals and harmful substances which are deposited in drinking water supplies.
The areas around the oil facilities become covered by sticky sediment from the work. It is increasingly taken in by fish in the Athabasca River system where it causes deformities and disease. A number of heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium have been detected in groundwater and bioaccumulate in a variety of organisms. The Canadian authorities are easing the laws that previously have protected animals and nature to facilitate tar sands extraction.
Indigenous people living in Alberta area has traditionally relied on hunting. They claim the site which is now appropriated. The rate of cancer incidents has begun to be alarmingly high among them. The cancer is associated with heavy metals. A local physician in Fort Chipewyan who raised the alarm about the increased cancer rate, suffered the same fate as many alarms before him. The Canadian Health Ministry accused him of spreading unnecessary fear in the population. Authorities have such strong economic interests in the tar sands extraction that the principle of free speech is overridden. The signatories can not accept that Statoil indirectly allows a high risk of injury on the locals, nor the ugly intrusions on free speech that occurs in connection with tar sands extraction.
Statoil is assumed to be well aware of the consequences. Yet they participate in plunder, with Government tacit consent. Norway’s international reputation as a good climate campaigner can only persist if Statoil withdraws now. Continued involvement in Canada is embarrassing for Norway. Statoil helps to legitimise Canada’s climate destructive path to economic recovery. Statoil cause at least seven times as much greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction of tar sands in Canada as the extraction of conventional oil on the Norwegian continental shelf.
Statoil defends its involvement with saying that it is the oil company which is best technologically equipped to do the procedures in the least harmful way. If Statoil doesn’t carry out the job, others will do it, and they will do a worse job. This is neither a compelling or legitimate argument for continued participation in Canada. Norway can not see it in their interest to be the second worst option. Ambitions must be both more positive and far more progressive. Statoil and Norway should withdraw from tar sands project in Canada now.
Signed by 274 Norwegian authors
Continue reading about art, artists and climate: What artists and arts institutions can do