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Green Is The New Black

Public Money Diverted From Oil & Gas Polluters: 2021 Climate Victories to Carry Us Through 2022

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paid to pollute climate victories

2022 is here much sooner than we expected, and it’s already unfurling with a dizzying urgency. Before we’re fully drawn into fresh goals and expectations this year, let’s acknowledge our climate victories and take stock of the journey so far. 

Situating New Year’s outside of capitalism

Recently, I’ve been remembering and returning to the words of Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929—January 22, 2018). During her speech at National Book Awards, she famously said, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” This is to say, if you’re experiencing eco-fatigue or inescapable burnout this January, we see you, we are grateful you’re with us, and here’s a quiet reminder that maybe, just maybe, you do not hate the year. You hate the violent systems of capitalism that strip meaning from your life

Here, then, are moments/movements worth sitting with, because of how loudly and resolutely they resist capitalistic structures and expand the scope of what’s possible. Let this be an exercise in imagination and joy for those who are looking for reasons to keep organising, advocating and collectively pushing for a just revolution. 


Protest Louvre Museum stop sponsorship from TotalEnergies green is the new black

IMAGE Via Art Leaks / IMAGE DESCRIPTION: activists stand in protest outside the Louvre with opened black umbrellas facing the camera and the words “FOSSIL FREE CULTURE” written in white ink on their external canopy.

Louvre is liberated

Since as early as 2015, activists from 350.org, Greenpeace, Alternatiba and Friends of the Earth have been relentlessly risking their safety and protesting Total’s sponsorships with the Louvre Museum. In 2017, they staged a protest at Louvre, calling for the end of the 20-year sponsorship with the oil and gas company:

“We are collectively trying to liberate cultural institutions from corporate interference. When oil companies sponsor art institutions, those museums and galleries are actually sponsoring the oil companies as well. They are giving them the social legitimacy they don’t deserve and helping them to clear up their brand image. We need them out of COP21 and we need them out of our cultural institutions,” said Chris Garrard, co-ordinator of the British protest group Art no Oil.

On 6th October 2021, Louvre informed Greenpeace France that “no partnership with the oil and gas major is in progress.” While ties have ended, the work to hold institutes accountable and keep oil companies out is a continuous one.

In this spirit, Greenpeace is now calling for a review of the museum’s ethical sponsorship charter. “The Louvre Museum has a duty to set an example vis-à-vis society. If there is no ongoing partnership with the TotalEnergies Foundation, then the time is perfect to review the museum’s ethical charter in terms of sponsorship!” says Edina Ifticène, campaigner at Greenpeace.

Why this matters 

TotalEnergies has regularly funded exhibitions, and according to Greenpeace in exchange for these donations, Total has been able to engage in economic and cultural diplomacy with countries in which it wishes to set up businesses. For decades, fossil fuel companies have imposed dominance and influence by consolidating power, lobbying for climate denial and continuing business as usual. Billion-dollar “charitable” partnerships, especially with cultural institutions, help build the social license that allows them to evade consequences. British Petroleum (BP) recently ended its controversial sponsorship with Tate in 2017 after three decades of activism. Since then, Louvre, The Paris Opera and Les Beaux-Arts have followed. What’s next?

paid to pollute UK green is the new black

IMAGE by Sabrina Merolla / IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Climate campaigners gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London with teal and dark-blue coloured posters that read “#PaidToPollute: The Case Against Public Money for Oil and Gas”

#PaidToPollute: taking the UK government to court

During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, the UK paid Shell almost $100M: it is the only country where Shell operated but didn’t pay taxes.

Unsurprisingly, oil and gas work is becoming increasingly insecure. This is accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic which has seen thousands of oil workers across the UK fired. At the same time, these companies have handed out million-pound executive payouts and big payments to their shareholders. In response to this, on 11th May, 2021, three environmental campaigners launched a legal challenge against the UK government over its support for the production of North Sea oil.

On 9th December, 2021, they were able to effectively take the UK Government to court, where the UK admitted that the oil and gas industry received more public money than it has paid in tax in recent years.

The anxiously-awaited judgement came yesterday, on 19th January: the high court ruled against them. To put it simply, the court said that it is lawful and appropriate for oil and gas companies to evade taxes and receive mega subsidies during a climate emergency (and the gas crisis). Despite the high court’s decision, this fight is far from over. It is a big moment in the battle against public money for oil and gas now that the government’s complicity has been exposed on the public record. 

Why this matters

Kairin van Sweeden, one of the complainants, explains, “The UK government is wasting public money extracting oil and gas at the expense of our wider economy and our environment. Instead of propping up a declining industry it should be funding a managed phase-out of fossil fuels and a just transition which creates new, green jobs and enables oil industry workers and affected communities in Scotland and the rest of the UK to shape their own future.” It’s about time we listen to workers, their unions and affected communities, and give them the democratic power they need to redirect funds towards a just transition.

Universities (commit to) divesting from fossil fuels 

On 10th September 2021, after a decade of deep organising, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard succeeded in pushing the university to divest all of its $42bn endowment—the largest in the world—from fossil fuel-related companies.

Boston University and Wellesley divested from fossil fuels too. Wellesley reached this agreement after a decade of student activism and only now has the university agreed to end fossil fuel investments within the next two decades. This means that students at these universities must continue to ensure that these commitments are met in full, without delay or compromise. 

Why this matters

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard released a statement highlighting the need to hold those in power accountable: “It took conversations and protests, meetings with administration, faculty/alumni votes, mass sit-ins and arrests, historic legal strategies, and storming football fields. But today, we can see proof that activism works, plain and simple. It shouldn’t have taken a decade for Harvard to catch up with climate reality. Its intransigence represents a fundamental failure of transparency, governance, and accountability—failings that Harvard must resolve if it wants to rise to the challenges of the future.”


What does “victory” look like?

As we continue to move forward, we must reinvent the ways in which we define “victory”. As Mikaela Loach makes clear, our collective success as a movement does not rest on a single legal judgement or win. The legendary revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, just hours before she was captured on 15th January 1919, wrote: “Where would we be today without our “defeats,” from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism? Today, as we advance into the final battle of the proletarian class war, we stand on the foundation of those very defeats.” 

Solidarity is situated in the web of reimagining and collective co-creating. It is the shared vision that unites us despite past “defeats” and fortifies us through decades-long campaigns when our liberation is barely visible on the horizon. 

Solidarity is impossible without the participation of the masses—there are so many ways to be involved: follow @paidtopollute and support the cause by signing the petition or even donating if you’re able to. It’s about time we step up to bolder action that kills all polluters. Greenpeace published a new report which revealed that two-thirds of the advertisements put out by six leading fossil fuel companies in Europe can be classified as greenwashing. To this, Total Energies very unironically responded, “Nothing we ever do is enough for Greenpeace.”  Greenpeace has launched a petition for a ban on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships. If you’re a European Union citizen, sign the petition and share it widely—our strength lies in our numbers.


[For more good news: we wrote about the #StopCambo movement, and other recent wins for the planet, here.] 


FEATURED IMAGE: Via Paid to Pollute / IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Climate campaigners gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The two claimants, Kairin Van Sweeden and Mikaela Loach are in focus. 

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