The Art Not Oil coalition have published an in-depth report today which exposes the multiple ways in which BP has interfered in the running of the museums and galleries it sponsors. The report draws upon hundreds of emails and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) which highlight BP’s disturbing involvements.
The revelations include BP conspiring with senior institution staff over security procedures, being given influence over curatorial content, and a troubling email from the British Museum asking that a VIP list that includes BP be deleted “as soon as it is no longer required”.
The report gives concrete evidence of where institutions including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate and Science Museum have compromised on their stated values and independence in order to meet BP’s demands. It will be formally submitted to the Museums Association, who will investigate whether its official Code of Ethics for Museums has been breached.
The British Museum and National Portrait Gallery are both currently considering whether to renew their sponsorship deals with BP. Tate’s partnership with the oil giant will end in 2017, following intense pressure from artists and campaigners.
On Saturday, the Guardian previewed four emails from the fifty-three documents cited in the report. All the institutions in the spotlight were quick to respond, with BP claiming that one email represented “nothing more than a discussion between partners”, and that the company “never seeks curatorial influence” and provides “nothing more than funding”.
BP took a similar line at its recent Annual General Meeting, where the company’s Chief Executive Bob Dudley insisted BP’s funding comes with “no strings attached” and that they would never sponsor an exhibition in order to “curry favour”.
The damning evidence in today’s report appears to contradict these claims. Some of the most troubling examples of BP’s influence include BP providing additional money to the British Museum on top of its five-year sponsorship deal in order to fund a Mexico-themed “Days of the Dead” festival in collaboration with the Mexican Embassy, just as the company was bidding for lucrative oil leases in Mexico.
The event allowed BP privileged access to Mexican government officials, specifically at a VIP reception event, with one email showing the museum’s Events Manager asking the Mexican Embassy to delete the invitation list for the event “as soon as it is no longer required”.
The report asks the question: “was it a coincidence that the museum decided to hold a Mexico-themed event at the very moment it would be of maximum geopolitical benefit to BP?”
Cherri Foytlin, a resident of the Gulf Coast, said: “Since 2010, there are a lot more graves in the Gulf of Mexico than there were before, and that’s just the truth. So anytime we see arts organisations take on BP as a sponsor, we want to make sure those institutions understand that they are sponsoring death. They are sponsoring death in our communities.”
Emails also show BP being offered input into curatorial decision-making at the British Museum’s Indigenous Australia exhibition and the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award.
An anonymous British Museum staff member, speaking exclusively for the report, said: “It is generally known that of all the corporate funders, BP is the most unpleasant to deal with. They are extremely demanding of the Museum – bullying, I would say.”
Gaps and contradictions in the materials disclosed raise questions about the institutions’ compliance with the FOI Act with regard to their communications with BP. Internal reviews undertaken at the National Portrait Gallery and Science Museum already reveal errors were made during searches for material as part of FOI requests.
The independence of the security procedures at sponsored institutions is called into question. Emails show that senior staff from BP’s “cultural partners” attended a collaborative security meeting at BP’s offices on measures for addressing protest, with many then attending a counter-terrorism training hosted by BP and the Metropolitan Police just nine days later.
Sponsoring events at the British Museum, Science Museum and other venues gives BP privileged access to UK politicians and policymakers. BP and the Science Museum even worked together on “advocacy plans” for the 2015 General Election. This raises serious questions about whether cultural institutions are complicit in promoting an oil company’s political agenda.
Chris Garrard, the report’s lead author, said: “BP CEO Bob Dudley claims its arts money comes with ‘no strings attached’, but it’s clear from the evidence we’ve unearthed that when BP says ‘jump’, museums ask – ‘how high?’
“The thought of BP using publicly-funded museums to curry favour with oppressive regimes and extract oil that we can’t afford to burn should appal anyone who cares about the cultural sector. In order to restore the public’s trust, these institutions must follow Tate’s lead and split with BP.”
Tate is also facing pressure to reveal further details of its BP funding. It is due to appear at the Information Tribunal on May 11, where arts group Platform (with Leigh Day, Monckton Chambers, and Request Initiative) are appealing against the gallery’s refusal to disclose the amount of funding it received from BP between 2007 and 2011.
The PCS Union represents five thousand museum and gallery workers. Their opposition to oil sponsorship is raised as a concern in emails between BP and the National Portrait Gallery.
Richard Simcox, National Press Officer for the PCS Union, said: “It’s deeply troubling that BP either do have, or feel they have, so much influence. Staff, who are often low paid, have a legal and human right to join a trade union. It’s bad enough when that’s called into question by an employer, it’s sinister when it’s questioned by a corporate sponsor.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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