On a sunny spring weekend around 20 activists converged on Greenwich to take part in Climate Camp London's protest against BP's sponsorship of the National Maritime Museum. The event was part of a week-long series of actions and creative interventions against BP's sponsorship of art galleries and cultural institutions in London, planned to coincide with the first anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, which occurred as a consequence of BP's deepwater oil drilling operations. (1)
In an effort to repair it's tarnished reputation, and to divert attention from its reponsibility for the largest industrial oil disaster in history, BP is sponsoring major cultural institutions, including the National Maritime Museum. The NMM includes the Maritime Galleries, the Royal Obervatory and the Queens House, all of which overlook Greenwich Park. Greenwich Park is also a planned location for the London 2012 Olympics. As well as being the official oil and gas partner, BP is also one of the sustainability partners of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. (2)
Just before 1pm on saturday, activists from Climate Camp London erected a large white tent in the center of Greenwich Park. Passers-by were soon being engaged in conversation, with many being supportive of the aims of the protest. Children and parents were enticed by the oily cup cakes on offer, and the opportunity to make a paper boat to include in the flotilla petition that would be delivered to the museum at the end of the day. Many of the people spoken to were unaware of the extent of BP's sponsorship of cultural institutions, and there was strong agreement that public bodies such as the NMM should refuse to accept funding from BP.
The event passed off smoothly, despite the attempts of local police to force the group to take down their tent, which they claimed needed a permit to be erected. The obvious determination of the activists to resist any attempts to move them on, and the family-friendly nature of the protest, gave the police little option than to let them have their way. Spirits were further lifted by the antics of Spongebob Squarepants and the BP Spillionaire, who kept the crowd entertained through the afternoon.
Just before 5 o'clock a letter to the Director of the National Maritime Museum was delivered to museum staff, along with the flotilla petition which included around 100 paper boats. A diorama of an oil-covered Spongebob Squarepants and his oily pineapple house was also given to the museum to add to their collection. Around 800 flyers explaining the connection between BP's environmentally destructive oil extraction and its sponsorship of the arts were handed out over the course of the afternoon. And by being located directly under the viewing balcony of the Royal Observatory, the protest would have been captured in the lenses of a few thousand visitors to the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.
Copy of letter delivered to Dr Fewster, Director of NMM:
Dear Dr Fewster,
The National Maritime Museum is rightly recognised as one of the the UK's greatest cultural institutions, and a wonderful display and archive of knowledge about Britain's maritime history.
But we are saddened by NMM's association with BP through the money you receive from BP Shipping. Wednesday, April 20th, marks the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and caused countless damage to fragile ecosystems and to the local community. Subsequent investigations revealed that BP had overlooked numerous essential safety procedures to cut costs, and that BP has a history of safety violations across the US. BP had claimed that they had the capacity to deal with a deepwater blowout of this size, but the technologies they had prepared were clearly inadequate.
Today, millions of people living along the Louisiana, Alabama and Florida coasts have to deal with loss of their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. The Corexit used by BP to 'clean up' the oil has sent much of the oil to the sea floor, where it is severely damaging marine life. Corexit is banned in the UK as a dangerous and toxic substance and its negative ecological and human health impacts are well documented, but BP chose to spray millions of gallons - including directly onto fishermen working in their boats - of it into the Gulf so that the water would look cleaner from the surface. And it's not just fishermen who were affected by the spill. Schools throughout the three states, even in areas far from the coast, are suffering because of lost tax money usually brought in by tourism. Some are fighting back with lawsuits, while others are resorting to layoffs. BP pledged $20 billion of compensation money, but many of the claims aren't being honoured as families lose their mortgages, suffer oil and corexit-induced health problems and sink further into poverty.
It is painfully ironic, then, that BP Shipping sponsors a museum that guards the history of many brave and resourceful individuals who lived by and on the seas. Here is what two mariners from Louisiana have to say to you:
'Isn't the purpose of a maritime museum to honour and support maritime endeavours? When we're gone, is that what will replace us? A museum?' (Tracy)
'We don't hate BP. I'm a fisherman and I used to work for BP. But I want them to drill responsibly, and take responsibility for their mistakes- and they can't buy their way out of this.' (Byron)
They can't buy their way out of this. BP benefits hugely from its association with the NMM, even though the museum is not publicly branded with its logo. They use your historic buildings for corporate events and describe your relationship as an important part of their corporate social responsibility portfolio. But BP's business model is not socially responsible. At its AGM on Thursday, BP announced that they would be doubling oil exploration efforts. BP's "Energy Outlook 2030" reveals a business plan that is based around increasing levels of global fossil fuel consumption into the next few decades, committing the planet to climate chaos. If oil consumption continues in the way that BP wants, rising sea levels will go beyond the capacity of the Thames Barrier and London will be permanently flooded. If BP has their way, the Queen's House, the Maritime Museum and the Royal Naval College will all be underwater.
Dr Fewster, we know that funding for institutions such as yours is facing hard times. But we appeal to your human judgement, and we ask that you publicly and comprehensively end your relationship with BP.
Climate Camp London