Tag Archives: bp

That 10:10 video

2 Oct

Wowzas. That 10:10 Richard Curtis film, “No Pressure”, has stirred up quite a debate. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about you can at least get up to speed with 10:10’s apology here.)

I don’t want to defend 10:10’s decision to go ahead with the film, I found it really hard to stomach myself and felt really a bit sick after watching it. I completely understand people who have been offended by it, or who simply don’t really know what the message was supposed to be.

But. I was very, very interested to observe today and yesterday, that quite a few of the requests asking 10:10 to take the video down referenced the bombs in Nigeria on Friday. For example, on twitter @AshleyRRB said: @1010 have scored an own goal with new campaign video. As events in Nigeria today show, blowing up people you don’t agree with isn’t funny.

Of course, I agree, blowing people up isn’t funny. It’s abhorrent, tragic, disgusting. But not one person mentioned why those bombs went off in Nigeria, which I think is important to note in this case, especially if we are to make such links.

The bombers were part of the militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend). Mend come from the oil-rich southern delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, and have been fighting for years for a greater share of the oil revenues. The delta is also the location of huge environmental catastrophe, at the hands of companies such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, with oil spills and devastation that apparently dwarf even the scale of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Massive corporations are going into countries like Nigeria, destroying the environment, taking the resources and then exporting them to the US, Europe etc and pocketing the profits. That is why Mend’s warning email about the bombs said, “For 50 years, the people of the Niger delta have had their land and resources stolen from them.”

I am in no way sympathetic to the actions of Mend or condoning them. It is devastating. But we are blind if we do not acknowledge that this tragedy is a clear example of the consequence of our relentless burning of fossil fuels (which is contributing to climate change) and exploitation of our natural environment.

If anything, the events in Nigeria on Friday should be spurring us on harder and faster to the clean energy future that we need, to prevent more awful incidents like these occuring. 10:10 might have missed the mark with their video, but the people that work there are some of the most hard-working, good-natured and good-hearted people I know. They are working towards the low-carbon future we need and they need more of us on board with that. That’s all they meant. And I think they’re right.

Crude 2010 – Liberate Tate

15 Sep

Ultra cool vid from Liberate Tate action at Tate Modern yesterday – wish I’d been there!

Liberate Tate action against BP sponsorship

1 Jul

This is cross-posted from The Multicultural Politic

After Monday night’s mini-spill outside the Tate Britain, enacted by the artist-activist group Liberate Tate, there has been a flow (‘scuse the pun) of press coverage from around the world, opening up the debate around corporate sponsorship of the arts (which is, in my personal opinion, a victory in itself).

Much of the arguments that are critical of the action taken, have followed along these general lines – that we, as activists, should be targeting BP, not the Tate; that we should be targeting all oil companies, not just BP, as other companies such as Shell have a high stake in our cultural institutions too; that oil has been sponsoring the arts for the past 20 years, so why bother protesting about it now; and that the Tate and the arts in general have no choice but to accept corporate sponsorship, especially in the light of further cuts in public spending.

In quick response, I would say to those – well, we have and are targeting BP, you may count any number of actions going on right now in the world that are doing just that. Targeting the Tate is about recognising our responsibility in all this mess. It is easy to blame the fat cats in suits, but here we are with big cultural institutions and artists (very well regarded ones at that, such as Grayson Perry and Cornelia Parker), endorsing companies that are causing massive environmental catastrophes and hastening climate change. Public concern about climate change is lower than last year and that is quite understandable. Political failure at Copenhagen, along with seeing oil companies endorsing our major public events and exhibitions, must of course give the general public the impression that it’s not that urgent.

In terms of targeting all oil companies – well that’s just a silly argument. Concerned citizenry willing to take action are currently made up of less people than those who work for big corporations. We’re trying! But if Shell are feeling left out and would enjoy 5 gallons of molasses on their doorstep, I’m sure that can be arranged.

And yes, oil has been sponsoring the arts for the past 20 years. Was Monday’s action the first action against it? No. Rising Tide and Art not Oil have been doing marvellous stuff for years. Even if this wasn’t the case, is that a coherent argument for not taking action? No. The Tate was founded on slavery money, and then sponsored by the tobacco industry. When this became unacceptable in public opinion, out those sponsors went. Something being rubbish for a long time is no excuse to keep on doing it, otherwise we would have a zero percentage divorce rate, amiright?

And lastly, to the argument that the arts have no choice but to accept corporate sponsorship. This to me, is the crux. I work for a charity, and believe me, I understand how hard funding is to come by. I also understand the vital need for art and culture, the very things that speak to me about what it is to be human, that make me feel alive. But to say that the arts have no choice in the matter, is doing us all a great disservice, and spectacularly undermining the role of art in the public domain. Are we merely to wait for corporations to stump up the cash before we can enjoy anything that we call art? Has art become such a commodity, that we must wait in line for the next big exhibition, buy a ticket and then wonder around for 45 mins with a furrowed brow, and that be the limitation of our experience? I have had an amazing time with Caravaggio at the Tate Britain, Picasso at the Tate Modern, Goya at the Prado. But have we forgotten what it means to create? Some of my best experiences of art have been small, intimate happenings – acoustic gigs, spoken word, craft nights – where the atmosphere is electric and alive with creation. So I have to wonder, who is art for? If it is for us, then we must ask whether or not corporate sponsorship limits the freedom of the artist to truly create. And it is wise to remember that Liberate Tate was born out of just such a limitation.

Can you do good with bad money?

6 Jun

This is cross-posted from The Multicultural Politic

A few years ago I was at drama school, waiting to launch myself into the world of showbiz and being prepped for life out in the “industry”. This consisted mainly of being told to lose half my body weight, wear chicken fillets and look either more or less asian (pretty hard for a dual heritage, Anglo-Japanese girl!) but also, more practical tips, like how to audition for advertisements.

Sitting in that particular session, hearing about how advertising corporate brands can end up being the bread and butter of an actor’s life, I asked about principles – how could you appear in an advert for a company like McDonalds, and reconcile that with your principles? I was told that my tutor’s friend had managed to buy a house outright with the money earned from just such an advert – “Principles, schminciples!” I cried, much to the hilarity of my course-mates, and left it at that.

But it’s a question that has stayed with me. For struggling artists, more lucrative jobs such as advertising can end up funding work we might deem more “worthwhile”. Some might argue that this is an unfortunate, but necessary trade-off. That, to do good, sometimes you need “bad” money.

In the wider world, there is a lot of evidence to back this opinion up. With ever-deepening cuts to the arts and consistent under-funding of research, we could assume that there is a lot of work that would go undone without corporate sponsorship. The National TheatreNational GalleryTate and countless other cultural institutions are all funded by banks and oil companies. Similarly, at an Earthwatch lecture I went to recently on Forests and Climate Change, I realised that the presented research projects had been funded by Shell (a dab hand at creating environmental catastrophes), HSBC (who have been connected to illegal logging) and Mitsubishi. Not exactly a roll call of climate change heroes.

Still, has all this corporate sponsorship managed to do “good”? Some would say undoubtedly so. The National Theatre £10 Travelex scheme has gone a long way towards the democratization of our theatre scene, making it more accessible to those who traditionally wouldn’t have spent a night at the theatre. And sure, without the sponsorship of conservation and research projects such as those run byEarthwatch, perhaps our planet would be in a worse state than it is now, without the few precious enclaves it has left.

But is this “good” good enough? Whilst BP celebrates their 20th anniversary of sponsoring the Tate in a couple of weeks, they are busy creating the biggest oil painting known to man out there in the Gulf of Mexico. In the face of this, can we be surprised that new collectives, such as Liberate Tate are springing to up to protest against oil and the arts being bedfellows?

In the end, we have to examine what our definition is of “good”. It seems that sometimes our definition can slip, to encompass “the best that can be expected in the circumstances”. If we stopped to examine what is really going on, perhaps we’d find that the good doesn’t outweigh the bad, that they just cancel each other out, or worse – are we calling it evens when it is tipping the other way?

Check out the Shell sponsored Climate Science gallery opening in November at the London Science Museum, which “will step back from pushing evidence of man-made climate change to adopt a more neutral position.” Or, consider the entertainment industry once again – does George Clooney producing films about media corruption (Goodnight and Good Luck) and the oil industry (Syriana) balance out the fact that as “global ambassador” for Nespresso, he has helped sell millions of luxury coffee machines for a company with a pretty dodgy track record? When questioned at the 2007 Venice Film Festival about the apparent hypocrisy inherent of this and his appearing in Michael Clayton, a film about corruption in multinationals, Clooney said “I’m not going to apologise to you for trying to make a living every once in a while, I find that an irritating question.”

Considering he made $20,000,000 for Ocean’s Eleven, I find that an irritating response!

But many of us are complicit in these trade-offs – it’s not just celebrities, big companies or art galleries. Many of us know the city banker who is planning on making his nest-egg and then retiring to “give something back”. But what if that lifestyle choice isn’t good enough? What if that city banker did more harm working for a company that invests in arms, corrupt governments and oil than he (or she) can ever put right? Can we happily assume that our individual choices all balance out in the end?

I was recently invited to a Facebook group called Making Money + Changing the World. The description reads “This is for people that want to do both – that don’t feel like they need to compromise and are searching for a way that they can do good in the world and live the life they want.” It sounds great, but I’m not sure it’s possible. The same Facebook page calls for applications for Pepsi and Nike-funded social enterprise awards. It seems that, for the moment at least, making money and changing the world does require compromise and you can’t bank in which direction you’re going to change it.

Having said all this, I do hope that this is a temporary double bind that we find ourselves in, that another world is possible. Last year, the Co-op turned down £100m in un-ethical business and yet total lending by the Co-op soared to £8.3bn, setting a better example for our other high-street banks. On a smaller scale, we at The Otesha Project UK have developed a donor screening policy which outlines who we will and won’t take money from, based on their social and environmental credentials. This led to a super-satisfying encounter with Shell, where I could tell them where to go! I am incredibly proud of this policy because as time has gone on, I have realised how rare it is.

And now I shall leave you with a quote from Terrence Howard’s character in Hustle & FlowThere are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them.

Now, go lace up those hiking boots.

Party at the Pumps 2

17 May

This is cross-posted from The Multicultural Politic

A couple of years (or even a year) ago, I would never have dreamed that I would have taken over the forecourt of a petrol station, dancing to samba as the police looked on. To year-ago me, it would have seemed a bit: mad, hippy, reckless, stupid, pointless, illegal (delete as appropriate).

What made me change my mind, and what made me get involved with groups such as the UK Tar Sands Network which facilitated the recent Party at the Pumps actions? Well, it was a few things. Over the past few months I’ve been privileged to meet those from first nations communities who are being affected by the tar sands in Alberta, Canada – dubbed the most destructive project on earth. The tar sands are destroying their lands, their way of life, contaminating the water and food so much that cancer rates have been found to be 30% higher than expected. So many people from these communities are dying that they no longer call the tar sands a “dirty oil” project, they call it “bloody oil”.

Add in to the mix the fact that the tar sands are so energy intensive that they could cause runway climate change all on their own if left to continue, and we have a problem. Companies like Shell and BP must be held accountable for these social and environmental disasters, and it’s our job to do that. Obama is insisting that BP pick up the paycheck for the recent oil spill, but if BP just use that as an excuse to limit offshore drilling and move further in to the tar sands, do you want to bet that Obama will continue the finger-pointing?

It is up to us to pile on the pressure, and if that means partying in a petrol station forecourt then bring it on! It was a brilliant day, with a samba band, bike-powered sound system and free cake (mmm cake). It was also a great way of talking to interested passers-by about why we were doing it and so invigorating to find that we had swathes of public support. As one guy said “It’s not a violent protest, not destroying property, they’re making their point, it’s how most social change has happened since the civil rights movement, you have to do what you have to do”.

And that’s why I’m doing stuff like this now. Change happens. Is it mad? Maybe. Is it hippy? Getting less so! Is it illegal? Umm…

Is it important, essential, vital? Yes.

When I say green jobs.. I don’t mean this

6 May

This is cross-posted from The Otesha Project UK blog

I was on the train the other day and picked up an abandoned copy of the Evening Standard. Flicking forward a few pages was an article about the BP oil spill, with this picture:

These are inmates from a Louisiana prison who have been recruited to clean the oil off birds affected by the spill. It’s great matching up men who can be trained up in important skills with work that needs to be done… but when I talk about green jobs, I don’t really mean this.

Green for All and the Apollo Alliance over in the States have been doing amazing work over the last few years, matching up court-involved youthand those formerly incarcerated with training in green construction, weatherproofing homes, material deconstruction and reuse, and energy-saving techniques.

Youth who would be bouncing in and out of the criminal justice system have been given a new option – and new role models too. For those mired in unemployment or minimum wage jobs, these schemes are igniting new hope.

Green jobs can prove to be an invaluable way of helping people out of potential poverty and the risk of re-offending, leading them to essential work that will help us make a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

It is admirable that the inmates from Louisiana have been put to work to help conserve life and the environment, but I have to say I can’t wait for a world where we won’t have to work so hard to protect the world from oil companies. Where we can take a lesson from Green for All and others, and match up people that need it to the work that needs to be done. And that work is clean, not dirty.