- Leave the oil in the ground: every barrel of tar sands oil extracted is doing damage. Rather than letting governments and oil companies make weak promises about how they will improve the environmental footprint of their tar sands extraction, we need a complete moratorium on new tar sands projects, and a commitment to shut down existing ones.
- Reduce the market for oil: the introduction of energy efficiency measures, behavioural change, carbon taxes, and government legislation like the Fuel Quality Directive will have the combined effect of making tar sands extraction more expensive and less attractive for oil companies. Current battles against the Keystone XL and Enbridge pipelines are also making it harder for tar sands to be exported. Without expanding export markets tar sands production won’t be able to triple as planned.
- Cut off the funding: a lot of these companies are financed by European banks, the most prominent in the UK being the 83%-taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland. Additionally, banks can be targeted to ensure minimum standards are met. For instance, the Royal Bank of Canada has been pressured into adopting an indigenous rights policy, meaning it will not lease money to companies unless Free, Prior and Informed Consent is obtained from communities before projects begin (though it is not clear, of course, how well this will play out in practice…)
- Change the framing of the debate: oil companies might get some bad press when things go wrong, but for the most part people are largely accepting of their right to operate as they like. As we start holding oil companies to account for their narrow-minded focus on extracting the last drop and refusing to embrace the reality of climate change, the oil industry will start to be seen for what it is. One step is to prevent oil companies from associating themselves with positive public endeavours like Britain’s cultural institutions and the Olympics.
- Join the resistance: a lot of the communities in areas near oil developments lack support to fight against large companies, yet often have the most power to stop projects before they take off. We can help by working in solidarity with affected groups around the world, amplifying their voices, and supporting their campaigns, demands and lawsuits.
- Make it illegal!: If a new international law of ‘ecocide’ is adopted by the UN, CEOs of tar sands companies could be tried and charged under international criminal law for crimes against peace.
How can I help?
See how you can get involved. Whatever your time constraints and commitments, there is probably some way you can help out.
The Oilympics are well under way, and BP’s great greenwash continues to adorn our streets. But while all eyes are on London, in the background BP is on the prowl for new ways to destroy the planet…
Meanwhile, communities resisting the tar sands in Canada gathered for the annual healing walk in Alberta this weekend and we’ve been busy in Oxford plotting and planning to see how we can deepen our resistance and solidarity in the UK.
1. Oilympics kick off
2. Awe-inspiring Annual Healing Walk
3. Tar Free Oxford
4. 3 year anniversary funding appeal
Sunshine & Solidarity,
Sue, Emily, Ruthi and Jess
1. Oilympics kick off
Last week, after months of tirelessly illuminating BP’s hypocritical role as ‘Sustainability Partner’ of the Olympics, we heard that BP is sniffing around to expand its presence in the tar sands. BP was the last major European oil company to enter the tar sands with its Sunrise Project in 2010, and now looks set to sink its teeth further into the world’s dirtiest energy industry. The Olympics may be nearly over up but BP’s destruction is only just getting started!
On the first Saturday of the Olympics we marched with the Counter Olympics Network, uniting with dozens of other groups under the banner ‘No to a militarised, corporatised Olympics’. The march wove through East London taking us right past one of the infamous missile towers. We finished with a rally in the park which included the Reclaim Shakespeare Company repeating the performance that invaded the stage at the Roundhouse before the Comedy of Errors. The march had relatively low interest from the British media but there was a conglomerate of international press, eager to report on the ‘dissenting voices’, and we were covered by the New Statesman.
For a comprehensive critique of Olympic sponsorship, take a peek at this new feature-filled spoof newspaper, to which UKTSN contributed some content. Thousands of copies were distributed around London this week – you may have picked one up!
3. Awe-inspiring Annual ‘Healing Walk’
On Saturday hundreds of First Nations community members and allies walked 13 kilometres through mordor-esque tar sands operations to bring attention to the destructive impacts of the tar sands on the environment. ”The walk was not a protest, but a spiritual gathering to offer prayers for the healing of Mother Earth and all those negatively impacted by tar sands projects and associated infrastructure” explains Eriel Deranger.
It was incredible and inspiring to see the pictures of communities from territories all over North America to join their struggles and to express their resistance with ceremony.
3. Tar Free Oxford Takes Off
Tar Free Towns is an idea we had a little while ago, which originated from the desire to connect people in the UK with communities fighting tar sands in Canada, by supporting and encouraging hubs of tar sands activism to flourish in the UK.
Now, a new Tar Free Town took its first step! On a very rainy Sunday afternoon, a wonderfully mixed group of people came together. Some have campaigned about Tar Sands before, some have campaigned about other environmental issues and some are completely new to campaigning. These people came together to learn more about the tar sands and to discuss what an Oxford-based group could do to resist the world’s most destructive project.
The meeting started with an intimate screening of Taking on Tarmageddon and continued with an interesting and informed Q&A with UKTSN’s Jess and Sue. We then broke into small groups to discuss exactly what people wanted to discuss in an OpenSpace-style session. This was an extremely efficient and productive way to exchange ideas, brainstorm, and even have some deliverables by the end of the meeting!
Let us know if you would like out help to start a similar group in your town. Email us at – email@example.com
4. Three year anniversary funding appeal
It’s been 3 years since we first took up the call to action to work with communities resisting the tar sands to make sure that people in the UK and rest of the world started to pay attention to what is happening to the Canadian wild. Since then we have had an incredible journey of some wonderful and creative interventions to expose the world’s most destructive project and the corporations and banks fueling it.
If you have been inspired by what we have been doing feel free to make a wee contribution, we promise to make it go a long way!
This morning, protesters from the London Mining Network, UK Tar Sands Network and the Bhopal Medical Appeal, the campaign groups behind the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign, protested outside LOCOG headquarters.
After LOCOG’s constant refusal to meet any of the groups involved in the Greenwash Gold campaign about the London Olympics’ controversial corporate sponsors, we thought we should take our message right to their front door. We took giant dummy megaphones to project our message to the LOCOG offices.
We asked LOCOG to send down a representative to meet us, but once again LOCOG refused to engage. This is in spite of the fact that, following Drop Dow Now’s demonstration in March, Lord Coe himself said that he would be happy to meet those demonstrating to discuss the serious issue of toxic corporate sponsorship.
Emily Coats from the UK Tar Sands Network said: “We’ve been trying since February to arrange a meeting with LOCOG to discuss the inappropriateness of fossil-fuel giant BP being Sustainability Partner. LOCOG’s refusal to meet us confirms that they are more concerned about greenwashing their corporate clients than about real green issues.”
Colin Toogood from the Bhopal Medical Appeal said: “LOCOG and Lord Coe have been ignoring the Bhopal Medical Appeal’s request for a meeting since last August when the The Dow Chemical Company’s sponsorship of the stadium wrap was announced. The truth is that Lord Coe knows that Dow are shielding Union Carbide from criminal charges, relating to the Bhopal disaster, and there is simply no way they can have a public conversation about this matter and maintain a position in support of the Dow Chemical sponsorship deal.” (see notes).
The Greenwash Gold campaign has produced animations targeting the controversial environmental and human rights records of three Olympic sponsors, Dow, BP and Rio Tinto, and is encouraging viewers to vote for the ‘worst’ company that will be awarded the Greenwash Gold medal at the start of the games.
Richard Solly of the London Mining Network said: “LOCOG isn’t just ignoring us, it’s also ignoring those communities from all over the world that have had their lives devastated by the operations of Rio Tinto, Dow and BP. It’s disgraceful that the London Olympics are being used to ‘greenwash’ the reputations of some of the most controversial companies in existence.”
Meredith Alexander, the ex Olympics ‘ethics tsar’ who resigned over controversies surrounding Olympic sponsorship said: “The London Olympics belongs to all of us; athletes, spectators and Londoners alike. That’s why it is so disappointing that Lord Coe is ignoring people’s concerns about unethical sponsors. He does not want to hear about BP’s investment in the most polluting form of oil, the environmental problems that come with Rio Tinto’s medals or the fact that Dow Chemical is the company now responsible for the Bhopal tragedy.
“Lord Coe’s refusal to listen to the public is frustrating, but not particularly surprising. He would not listen to me when I was part of an official watchdog body. He has proved time and again that he certainly doesn’t care what the victims of the Olympic sponsors think. I’m left wondering who he is listening to.“
Amnesty International said: “On day one of the (recent Amnesty supporters) campaign, just a few hours after he received the first messages, Lord Coe’s reaction was apparently to block all emails sent via our website, and disengage from any conversation about Dow’s involvement in the Olympics. This does not reassure us that the Olympic Committee is committed to ethical, responsible investment.
Tomorrow – April 23rd – is both Shakespeare’s birthday and the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival. To mark the occasion, a group of actors, directors, academics and others from the theatre and arts community will publish a letter in the Guardian criticising the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) over its decision to accept sponsorship money from BP.
The RSC is the latest cultural institution to face criticsm for allowing BP to use corporate sponsorship to boost its flailing public image. The Tate has also come under sustained fire for its ongoing sponsorship relationship with BP.
BP, they argue, should not be allowed to associate itself with cherished cultural institutions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the oil company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands in Canada.
The letter comes after a week of high-profile criticism of BP’s role as London 2012 ‘Sustainability Partner’. The company’s financial support for the World Shakespeare Festival, and a trilogy of plays at the RSC, is part of a massive Olympics sponsorship push, which BP hopes will ‘build its brand’ and improve its sullied reputation.
It comes at a time of government cuts to arts funding that are forcing theatre companies to forge closer and more prominent links with corporate sponsors. But, as the signatories point out, these relationships can be dangerous. In this case, the RSC is ‘allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities with a veneer of respectability.’
Full text of the letter and signatories
Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, and marks the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival. Yet what should be an unabashed celebration of Shakespeare’s continued relevance to our world has been sullied by the fact that the festival is sponsored by BP.
While the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill continues to devastate ecosystems and communities, and the highly-polluting extraction of tar sands oil brings us rapidly closer to the point of no return from climate change, we feel that BP has no place in arts sponsorship.
We, as individuals involved in theatre and the arts, are deeply concerned that the RSC – like other much-cherished cultural institutions – is allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities with a veneer of respectability.
We would like to see an end to oil sponsorship of the arts, and are committed to finding more responsible ways to finance this country’s cultural life, for our own and future generations.
Mark Rylance, Actor, Writer and Playwright
Caryl Churchill, Playwright*
Moira Buffini, Playwright
Van Badham, Playwright
Jo Tyabji, Director and Actor
Rod Dixon, Red Ladder Theatre Company
James Bolam, Actor
Sue Jameson, Actress
Lisa Wesley, Artist and Theatre Maker
Arabella Lawson, Actress
Harry Giles, Environment Officer, Festivals Edinburgh
Professor Stephen Bottoms, Chair of Drama and Theatre Studies and Director of the Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds
Andy Field, Co-Director, Forest Fringe
Daniel Balla, Producer for Gaia Theatre Collective, Director for Coexists Events Space
Tom Worth, Producer of The Globe’s ‘Hamlet on Tour’ documentary
Lucy Jameson,Gaia Theatre
Simon Lys, Gaia Theatre
Leo-Marcus Wan, Actor
Tim Jeeves, Artist and Writer
Phil Maxwell, Director,
Hazuan Hasheem, Director,
Sue Palmer, Contemporary performance maker and artist
Stephen Duncombe, Associate Professor, New York University, Gallatin School of Media, Culture & Communications, Center For Artistic Activism,
Kenny Young, Songwriter, Musician, Founder of Artists Project Earth
Ana Betancour, Professor, Architect, Artist
John Volynchook, Photographer
Leila Galloway, Artist and Senior Lecturer
Dr Wallace Heim, Academic and former set designer
Tracey Dunn, film maker and community tv broadcaster
* Caryl Churchill signed on rather late in the day so missed the Guardian print deadline.
On April 12th, 2012, we attended BP’s Annual General Meeting, and challenged the board with some tricky questions.
First of all, the meeting was addressed by Bryan Parras and Derrick Christopher Evans, representing Gulf Coast communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster. You can read about their powerful testimony to the Board here.
BP’s Chair, Carl-Henric Svanberg, largely ignored their questions – he even rudely interrupted Bryan Parras and told him to hurry up! Instead of a proper answer, he repeated the prepared BP PR statement about how they were doing all they could to help deal with the spill, despite the fact that they’d just been told that these efforts were completely inadequate.
Next, Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Indigenous Environmental Network told the meeting that BP’s Tar Sands extraction projects could soon be illegal, thanks to a legal challenge from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation over their treaty rights in Canada. You can read more about this important message from First Nations to BP here.
Again, the BP Chair largely ignored Clayton’s question, and instead waffled irrelevantly about the particular tar sands extraction techniques that BP were planning to use.
A series of campaigners from the UK Tar Sands Network were then able to stand up and directly challenge the BP Board with the following questions (interspersed amongst many other questions from ordinary shareholders):
1) Planning for a six degree future:
On page 22 of the annual report you state, quoting International Energy Agency figures, that in 2030 80% of the world’s energy demand will be met by fossil fuels. As a consequence of this, you state on page 23 that you accept there will be a 28% rise in annual CO2 emissions globally by 2030.
On the same page, you note that in this future – the future that you believe will happen – the world will fail to keep global temperature rise below two degrees. What the report doesn’t say is that if the temperature rises beyond two degrees then the world will have passed the tipping point on climate change and we will almost certainly be on the path to a six degree global temperature increase. This is the unavoidable consequence of the figures you quote, according to the International Energy Agency. The experts are telling us that in a 6 degree world we will face global food deficits, mass population shifts, frequent extreme weather disasters, the loss of many major cities and other huge infrastructure problems all of which will obviously have an effect on the world economy and on oil demand.
I can only assume from pages 22 and 23 of the Annual Report that BP is planning for a 6 degree world. Does the Board foresee BP remaining a commercially successful company in such a world of climate chaos with the resulting economic and social impacts? Can you provide any information Mr. Chairman on what plans the company is making to ensure its success in a 6 degree world?
BP’s Response: The Chair repeated the same response he’d made at the 2011 AGM, claiming that “There’s a difference between the future we think is likely to happen, and the future we’d like to happen”. He then also pointed out that BP was increasing its investments in wind energy and biofuels, and that renewables would have a vital role to play in the future. We countered this lame response in Question 6, below.
2) Lobbying (asked by someone posing as an ordinary shareholder, in an attempt to expose BP’s lobbying activities that are undermining important EU legislation):
The proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive calls for a 6% emissions reductions target for transport fuels. When passed, this could have an impact on our recently acquired Canadian oil sands operations and may be a considerable a threat to the profitability of BP’s operations. What is BP doing to assure its shareholders that such unfair legislation will not pass and impact on our dividends?
BP’s Response: The Chair took a few questions at once, including this one. He answered the other questions in the bundle, but ignored this one entirely!
3) Olympic Sponsorship (also asked by someone posing as an ordinary shareholder, to make BP admit the real reasons behind their sponsorship activities):
Given BP’s financial problems, and the drop in dividends that we have all experienced, I can’t help but notice the amount of advertising for BP’s sponsorship of the London Olympics, and cultural events taking place this year. This must surely run well into the tens of millions, way beyond what BP would normally be expected to contribute to public life as a good corporate citizen. I assume that such expenditure is justified by the company on the grounds of receiving a return of some sort, just as with any other investment of our company’s capital. This might include increasing our corporate citizenship profile or corporate entertainment opportunities. Could you tell us Mr Chairman, how much money BP has invested in sponsorship activities for this year’s events and detail for us what return you believe the company is getting on this investment?
BP’s Response: This question got a ripple of applause from some sections of the audience, who presumably didn’t like their potential dividends being spent on sport instead! The Chair passed this question over to Ian Conn, BP’s Chief Executive for Refining and Marketing. Although he was careful not to give an exact figure for the company’s lavish sponsorship deal, he did say that BP had written a business case for Olympic sponsorship “going through exactly the same processes as we would for any investment”. He said that the aim of their role as Oil and Gas Partner, sponsor of the Cultural Olympiad and Sustainability Partner was “brand protection and connection with customers and society”, and to “enhance their relationship with strategic commercial partners”, and that the company’s expectations were being met in these areas. These comments confirm that these kinds of sponsorship deals bring significant returns to the company and are all about the bottom line. BP is not supporting cultural and sporting events out of the goodness of its non-existent heart!
Mr Chairman, with the crime of “ecocide” soon to become international law, are you concerned that your decision to take BP into the Tar Sands might one day land you in jail?
BP’s Response: The Chair ignored the question.
5) Renewable energy:
Given that you say in your Sustainability Review that renewable energy sources ‘will be essential in addressing the challenges of energy security and climate change over the long term.’, why have you closed down BP Solar, your longest-running renewable energy division? Is solar going to be part of your long term plan, if not, why not, and how does investment in renewables compare to investment in fossil fuels?
BP’s Response: In a patronising tone of voice, the Chair explained that BP Solar had been sold off because it was no longer profitable enough. They were going into biofuels and wind power instead because there was more money to be made there, as they were better suited to BP’s particular infrastructure and expertise.
6) Interplanetary escape pod:
Mr Chairman, we’ve already heard that, according to your Annual Report, you believe that fossil fuels will still make up 80% of global energy use in 2030, leading to a 28% rise in CO2 emissions. You countered this by pointing to your investments in biofuels and wind power, but – even without going into all the problems with biofuels! – these investments are already included in the future energy predictions in your Annual Report. Your Annual Report clearly states that you believe we will be getting 80% of our energy from fossil fuels in 2030, despite your small investments in biofuels and wind. As we’ve heard, this will lock us into disastrous runaway climate change. So my question is: what’s the escape plan? I mean, the really scary stuff will start to kick in over the next twenty to thirty years, and a lot of people in this room will still be around then. So I can only assume that there’s some kind of interplanetary escape pod being built in a secret BP bunker, to carry the Board, executives and senior shareholders away as society collapses around us.
I’d like to know how many spaces are available on the ship, and where the Board is planning to escape to – Mars? The Moon? Somewhere deep below the Earth’s surface, or another solar system altogether? Also, are tickets available to shareholders and how do we book our place onboard?
BP’s Response: “I think we’ve already answered that question”! Of course, they hadn’t. We were horrified to hear that there was no escape plan, and that BP was happy to let us be killed by climate change, so we all fell over and pretended to die in the aisles. The security guards had to come over and drag us out. Most of the shareholders in the room seemed rather entertained by the whole thing – one shareholder even came up to us afterwards and congratulated us on a great protest…
7), 8) and 9):
Sadly, we didn’t get the opportunity to ask our three final questions, below, because time was running out and we needed to do our die-in stunt before all the shareholders left! Maybe next time…
One problem with BP’s Olympic sponsorship is that it makes the company more exposed to criticism, as we saw with the online hoax yesterday. For those who didn’t see it, a campaign group hijacked the Olympics website and issued a fake press release pretending that BP had been dropped as Sustainability Sponsor. A follow-up article in the Daily Telegraph spoke to several different groups who are planning further protests against Olympics sponsors whose activities they disagree with, including BP. Why did the board take the risky decision of not just sponsoring the Olympics, but taking on the specific role of Sustainability Partner? BP’s core business is in oil and gas – even more so now BP Solar has been sold off – and so surely the board should have realised that the inevitable criticisms would expose the company to significant reputational risk?
On page 70 of the Annual Report, you state that BP will be using Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage – SAG-D -to extract oil from the Canadian tar sands. You note that this method has a smaller land impact than open-cast mining, but you fail to mention that this extraction method still causes great damage to the local environment, by fragmenting habitats with seismic lines, drawing heavily on local aquifers and polluting the groundwater. It also carries the significant risk of steam blowouts, which could cause death or serious injury to staff, community members and wildlife. You then correctly note that because SAG-D requires the burning of large amounts of natural gas, it has a significantly higher carbon footprint than conventional oil. However, you then quote a low figure of just 5-15% of extra emissions per barrel, well-to-wheel, rather than the peer-reviewed Stanford University figure of 23% extra per barrel which is the official number that has been accepted by the EU. Because of this high carbon footprint, if all the currently accessible oil in the tar sands were burned it would take us 12% of the way towards the climate change “point of no return” all by itself. Why are the board playing down the risks and impacts of SAG-D technology?
On page 24 of the Annual Report, you say that a “diverse mix of fuels and technologies” will be required to meet future global energy needs, and cite oilsands as a necessary element of that mix. But the International Energy Agency’s most recent World Energy Outlook suggests that if the world continues along its current path, the Canadian tar sands would represent just 5% of liquid fuel production in 2035. So just a 5% more fuel-efficient future would mean we wouldn’t need the tar sands at all. Why are we pressing ahead with this risky fuel source when even the International Energy Agency suggests it isn’t really necessary?