Neil Young's made a start, but the arts must do more to oppose dirty money

(The Guardian, 12 Dec 2018) Galleries and arts promoters should be made to feel too ashamed to take money from industries linked with climate breakdown.

Those attending the COP24 climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland, this week have been greeted by a bizarre sight: an artistic celebration of one of the main fuels responsible for destroying the global climate. Katowice is the centre of Poland’s coal industry, and despite hosting a conference that represents the last chance saloon when it comes to taking meaningful action on climate change, local politicians pride themselves on the black stuff. Perhaps we could have expected no different when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change decided on such an inappropriate venue and to allow coal companies to sponsor the talks.

If we do make it through climate change with some form of civilisation intact, we will look back at some of the things we are doing now with the moral repugnance we feel towards slavery. There are legitimate parallels here. Climate change will most hurt those yet to be born. Our failure to make the dramatic changes needed to our economy and society means we are behaving as if we own the lives of future generations and have a right to steal their lives from them.

Art plays a key role in recording contemporary life, but because it is exploratory and imaginative it also invites us to challenge the assumptions we live by. In Katowice there is a counter-exhibition on coal by art students, drawing attention to the “dark side of coal”. Meanwhile the campaign movement Art Not Oil, which has been pushing for an end to oil sponsorship of the arts, ran a parallel protest exhibition alongside the British Museum’s I Object show in opposition to financial backing from BP – a company that proudly boasts it is one of the most significant corporate investors in UK arts and culture. Performers acted as “rebel curators”, presenting objects to the public that represent BP’s complicity in climate breakdown. Just as in Bristol, where the Green lord mayor, Cleo Lake, has banished paintings related to the slave trade from her office, so galleries should shun BP funding.

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The Guardian, 12 Dec 2018: Neil Young's made a start, but the arts must do more to oppose dirty money