This article is the first part of a two part series written by Guest Blogger, Katie Perfitt, the Canada Divestment Organizer with 350.org*. Katie is currently running a campaign calling on the Museum of History in Gatineau, QC to drop the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. In this piece, she explores the myth of acceptable oil sponsorship. In the second part, you’ll hear from Katie about why the Museum of History is well placed to be on the leading edge of the Fossil Free Culture movement in Canada.
CAPP & the Canadian Museum of History
About 5 years ago, the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) (then the Museum of Civilization) was approached by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) — the official lobby group for the biggest oil and gas companies operating in Canada. At the time, CAPP was seeking out sponsorship opportunities in the National Capital Region. An access to information request revealed that CAPP was looking to fund cultural institutions like art galleries and museums close to Parliament Hill, pending they could use those spaces to elevate the profile of Canada’s oil and gas sector.
Within months, the funding partnership was announced by way of a press release issued by the Canadian Museum of History. It was an immediate return on investment for CAPP: they were congratulated as a shining star of corporate philanthropy by the Museum’s own CEO, Mark O’Neill, while also giving CAPP a platform to promote fossil fuel expansion. The resulting press provided cover for CAPP lobbyists who were out lobbying the Harper government to gut Canada’s most precious environmental laws.
The Power of PR
Fossil fuel companies, and industry associations that represent them, cultivate relationships with arts and cultural centers because it helps to create an image of social license for the industry. This acceptability, becoming increasingly fragile, is necessary for Big Oil to continue to dig, drill, strip mine and frack, pipe, ship and store increasing amounts of oil and gas, despite the worsening climate crisis. It’s not a new tactic — in fact, it’s one taken right from the tobacco industry’s playbook.
It wasn’t that long ago that tobacco companies were seen as respectable sponsors for cultural institutions. But thanks to people powered movement calling out these dirty sponsorships, museums and galleries across the world cut ties to the tobacco industry.
Big Oil must see the same fate if we wish to tackle climate change with the boldness this crisis requires. Half measures or meekness won’t keep +80% of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves in the ground — what climate scientists have deemed necessary to stay within 2°c of global warming.
We need every corner of society to flex their muscle and stand up to an industry which has knowingly misled the public on climate change, that continues to lobby against climate action in every corner of the planet, and perpetrates human rights abuses around the world. We need all hands on deck, and to use every tool in our toolbox to fight the power of the fossil fuel industry.
The good news?
This shift is underway. Already, over 700 institutions worldwide have heeded the call to cut ties with Big Oil, and the public is starting to clearly see the evil PR genius behind oil sponsorship of arts and cultural institutions. Museums, Art Galleries, and other cultural institutions have been forced to answer the calls by their patrons to end sponsorship deals, divest their assets from fossil fuel companies, or by removing Big Oil CEOs from their boards.
We know that these actions alone won’t stop climate impacts from happening, or bring justice to Indigenous Peoples living near the Alberta tar sands whose water and lands have been destroyed, but it will stir up a critical public conversation about the social acceptability of these companies in our trusted and beloved cultural institutions. In so doing, we strengthen the calls for climate leadership in our political and financial spheres.
How can museum workers get involved in the fossil free culture movement?
You’ve heard about the role the personal agency of museum workers can play in Joy Davis’ blog post. You know from Naomi Grattan’s post that museum leaders can take an activist stance. And you’ve read about how to get your Board behind you by writing and approving an Advocacy Policy. With this knowledge & these tools, museum workers can get involved in the fossil free culture movement:
- By calling for an end to oil sponsorships, demanding assets be divested from the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies; and
- by insisting on the resignation of Big Oil executives from decision making bodies of museums, art galleries, and other cultural centres.
If that strikes a cord, start organizing your people. This divestment guide is a great resource if you’re not sure where to get started. It was made for students in mind, but most of the content is translatable to other campaigns and movement spaces!
In an era of climate change, we must stand united against the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to co-opt cultural institutions. We must send a big message that the age of big oil deceiving the public for its own gain is over.
350.org supports a global grassroots climate movement that hold leaders accountable to science and justice. This global movement works together to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects, take money out of the companies that are heating up the planet, and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all. We believe in a just, prosperous, and equitable world built with the power of ordinary people. If you want to support 350.org‘s campaign to have the Museum of History cut ties with Big Oil, you can sign the petition at: www.rightsideofhistory.ca and contact Katie to learn more.