London's British Museum was shut down on Thursday after Greenpeace activists scaled its columns to call on the museum to drop BP's sponsorship for a "blockbuster" exhibit—about flooded cities.
"Sunken cities aren't a thing of the past, they are happening now. And if BP gets its way, they could come to define our future."
BP, responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters of all time and untold greenhouse gas emissions, is sponsoring the museum's "Sunken Cities" exhibit about submerged Alexandrian cities. The exhibit opens today.
"In the eyes of BP, whose logo appears all over the show, it's an exquisite opportunity to clean up its image and distract from the polluting realities of its business," writes Greenpeace UK.
But modern cities are sinking in real time because of climate change, the activists say, and as a multinational oil company BP is one of those parties responsible. "We're here today taking a stand because of the irony of an oil company sponsoring an exhibition whose name practically spells out impacts of climate change," Greenpeace UK says. "What were they thinking?"
For their protest, Greenpeace volunteers "rebranded the exhibition and dressed the pillars at the entrance with five places that evoke flooding, extreme weather and rising sea levels in the 21st century," the group writes. "Among them there's New Orleans, a city almost lost in Hurricane Katrina, and also British towns like Hebden Bridge that were submerged by floods last winter."
The protestors also argue that BP's interests as a corporation directly oppose the British Museum's goals as a cultural institution.
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"The British Museum dedicates itself to learning, discovery and the conservation of human cultures, but the only discoveries BP seeks are more fossil fuels to dig up and burn which are already polluting our air and warming our world," argues the environmental group.
For BP, however, such a partnership makes sense, says Greenpeace UK, which describes its image-burnishing potential:
BP's cash contributes less than 1% of the British Museum’s annual income, but the benefits it can glean from cosying up to the UK's most popular cultural attraction can be priceless.
Oil companies use partnerships with our most popular cultural institutions to protect their business interests, cover up negative news coverage and promote an air of respectability. BP, for example, positions itself as a "cultural supporter," which you'd have to agree does sound softer than, "the company responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, one of the world’s worst environmental disasters of all time."
Thursday's action was not the first time BP's sponsorship of the "Sunken Cities" exhibit has been criticized. "It follows an earlier protest by campaign group BP or Not BP, which sent 10 performers to the courtyard outside the exhibition launch to be repeated drenched in water," reports the Telegraph.
Nor was it the first time climate activists have targeted a UK cultural institution for accepting BP funds.
"Sunken cities aren't a thing of the past, they are happening now," argues Greenpeace. "And if BP gets its way, they could come to define our future."