“How bad does a company have to be before an arts organisation refuses to be associated with it or take its money?” This question was posed recently by Platform, a UK-based organisation that campaigns (amongst other things) against art sponsorship by oil companies.
The National Gallery in London recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of BP sponsoring the the BP Portrait Award. Platform teamed up with activists dealing with BP’s toxic legacy in the Gulf of Mexico, and Raoul Martinez, an artist who was shortlisted three times for the BP Portrait Award, to put out a report looking at 25 years of BP’s polluting history.
You can read about the report, “Picture This – A Portrait of 25 Years of BP Sponsorship“, (and download it) on Platform’s website.
Platform’s report wasn’t the only protest about BP’s sponsorship of the National Gallery. More than 200 artists and people associated with the arts published a letter in the Guardian opposing the sponsorship of the arts by oil companies. The letter stated,
As arts practitioners and those working in arts institutions, we feel that the time is right for the cultural sector to be discussing alternatives to income gained from oil sponsorship in the same way that discussions about ending tobacco sponsorship took place more than two decades ago.
On 15 June 2014, hundreds of people protested at the British Museum about a major exhibition on the Vikings, which is sponsored by BP. As Andy Rowell writes on The Price of Oil website, BP’s sponsorship of the arts is “classic greenwash”. BP is trying to clean up its image and to deflect criticism from its record of pollution, without actually changing its operations.
BP’s greenwash isn’t only focussed on the arts. In 2011, BP became one of the founding members of the World Bank’s Carbon Fund, promising US$5 million to the fund.
Platform’s question should also be applied to the World Bank:
How bad does a company have to be before the World Bank refuses to be associated with it or take its money?
When the Carbon Fund was founded, Kate Horner, then-policy analyst for Friends of the Earth US, told the Guardian,
“BP should focus on cleaning up its own act, including the still highly polluted Gulf of Mexico, instead of engaging in forest carbon offset credits to avoid meeting climate goals. The carbon fund is almost entirely public money and cannot be used to bail out dirty industries like BP.”
BP’s interest in the Carbon Fund is clear. The company wants cheap carbon credits to avoid having to reduce its own massive contribution to climate change. A BP spokesperson told the Guardian that,
By participating in these initiatives, we increase our understanding of the evolution of carbon markets and policy, as well as helping to catalyse the development of this important sector.”
As Bruce Rich points out in his book about the World Bank, “Foreclosing the Future”:
BP recognized a leveraged investment: its contribution could be repaid many times, since a forest carbon market would allow the company to purchase cheap emissions offsets in tropical-forest countries while continuing to pollute elsewhere.
At its most recent meeting, the Carbon Fund announced that the price of carbon credits under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Fund will not be more than US$5. The World Bank will thus help BP to evade its responsibilities for climate change, by providing the cheap carbon credits that BP and other massively polluting corporations want.
To remind us of BP appalling history of “spills, explosions, deaths, leaks, extinctions, dodgy deals and climate impacts” here are just three excerpts from Platform’s report (the figures in brackets are average levels of atmospheric carbon in parts per million):
- 1989 (353.07 ppm) On March 24, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the coast of Alaska and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil over the next few days. The oil went on to cover 1,300 miles of coastline, and 11,000 square miles of ocean. While the oil company Exxon received much of the public blame, investigative journalist Greg Palast wrote that, “As the principal owner of the Alaska Pipeline and Terminal, BP, not Exxon, was designated by law to prevent oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez from hitting the beach. It was BP’s disastrous failures, more than Exxon’s, that allowed the oil to devastate Alaska’s coast.”
- 2004 (377.49 ppm) 300 NGOs and individuals wrote a letter to then-CEO of BP John Browne to express their “mounting concerns“ over the company’s failure to meet human rights commitments made two years ago in a multibillion pound Liquified Natural Gas project in Papua New Guinea. The signatories, including a former BP Indonesia vice-president who oversaw much of the project’s early development, claimed there was a “worrying lack of transparency“ in the Tangguh development in the eastern Papua province and “a failure to acknowledge the disturbing realities of the wider west Papua context.”
- 2010 (389.95 ppm) In April the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers on board. Oil gushed into the ocean until the 15 July when the well was capped. The US government claims that 4.9 million barrels of oil were spilled in the offshore disaster, while BP estimates a leakage of 3.26 million barrels during the three-month period it took to cap the blowout.