Part of the Solutions, Not of the Crowd

There’s a lot of fossilized money.

It comes to museums from companies and from individual owners and investors.

Much of it was earned by those who had a full understanding of the devastating climate changes being created by the use of fossil fuels. Think Exxon and British Petroleum but also individuals.

Many of those individuals and companies still continue to fund disinformation, fossil fuel expansion, and museums.

With that appalling record in mind, does a cultural institution decide to take the fossilized money or not? (At first I felt you could read ‘fossilized money’ as you wish – money from practices your institutions recognizes as harmful: weapons, chemicals, inhuman treatment of anything, but feel that each is so complex that I will restrict my concerns to fossil fuels.)

Possible responses:

A:  use fossilized money and investments because someone else will if you don’t; then let the company influence how you use it

B:   use fossilized money and investments because someone else will if you don’t; and use transparency to prevent influence made on the project or leveraged at the opening party

C:   use fossilized money for positive action such as education – reopening the NMNH David H. Koch Hall of Fossils with Deep Time – $3.5M

D:   use fossilized money for climate-positive action such as educating about human-caused climate change – NMNH David H. Koch Hall of Fossils reopening – $3.5M – when you have taken steps to prevent collusion and can confidently document its absence

E:   take the fossilized money if it’s in the form of court-ordered reparations

F: take the fossilized money from arbitration or court-ordered reparations and use it to help right some of the wrongs of the donor

G:    take fossilized money if the source organization or individual documents their responsible shift away from fossil fuels in a manner consistent with Paris Agreement

H: shift from protesting about sponsorships to calling for reparations, joining and leading lawsuits to stop this assault and to right wrongs

I:   don’t touch the stuff: don’t accept it, don’t benefit from it, and don’t let those associated with it touch us

We know that:

The US economy, and that of much of the World, is based on consumption of resources that consume energy land and water, and produce greenhouse gases (GHGs) as a result including Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Hydrofluorocarbon (FCs), Perfluorocarbon (PFCs) and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF).  

It’s a complex combination of activities and impacts but Energy use (in all its forms) is the greatest contributor.

We must reverse the rate of consumption. This requires changing our behavior, every one of us: the fossil fuel companies and leaders, investors, policymakers, individuals, and nonprofits — including each of us personally and professionally.

Ultimatums rarely work. A cold-turkey end to fossil fuel use is unjust and unfairly burdensome on those in society least prepared and least protected. It’s also impossible to effect internally. And a blanket approach to cutting back and cutting off fossil fuel production and use (such as a this-way-only mandate) will be dangerous for those most vulnerable while still being incredibly inefficient; influencing systems effectively requires very adaptive solutions – local applications are critical for success.

There is little, if any, pure money. Every business has impacts. So choose which companies you want as partners and know why you chose them. Patagonia is one of my favorites and here is a substantial and significant selection of other very responsible ones.

Meanwhile, you may be wondering if:

Refusal by cultural institutions to accept fossilized money has changed the companies’ behavior for net positive impact? Unknown. Clearly not yet obvious.

Attempts at new approaches have created improvements that are leading an energy transition? Yes:  North Carolina’s are and so are Minnesota’s.

Any super-major consumers’ own climate policies have changed behavior for positive impact? Yes: Google operations and  McDonald’s operations and supply chain.

So, here is where I am on this:

Lots of fossil fuel companies have lots of money. I require that it must be spent on solving the problems they’ve created and to not create any more. Many companies and individuals are going to be making reparations. And some are going to change. But they are terrible at changing themselves. The indigenous groups, environmental nonprofits and we cultural institutions can and must help. No, it doesn’t feel just or fair, but the alternative, of not contributing to a solution, is worse, much worse.

So, can cultural institutions engage without being tainted? Yes.

Do all of this:

Solution 1: Call loudly and clearly for reparations and turn reparations into solutions directly related to the impacts. This means helping the process of returning governance of and repairing Indigenous lands and access to resources; protecting more land; and using money from fossil fuel and pollution impacts to advance cleanup of the land- and seascapes, advance the science of remediation, rebuild ecosystems, educate the public, and build the infrastructure for a clean transition.

Solution 2: Divest. Create a 1-to-3-year plan to extract your personal and institutional investments from fossil fuels and any other socially-irresponsible businesses you identify. In addition to reducing your contribution to fossil fuel continuation and expansion, this will protect your investments from the increasing risk to fossil fuel companies that will suffer financially from the business shift to clean energy, financial impacts of likely carbon taxes, financial risks of a changing climate and the hazards that presents to facilities and resources, and the financial exposures from court cases and reparations.

Solution 3: Put a price on sponsorship for them. Sponsorship must cost them money plus climate commitments and demonstrated performance. We make commitments and demonstrate performance, why not they – and on our terms?

Solution 4: Put a price on leadership roles at your institution: appropriate behavior and full transparency. The partnership must be based on negotiated values – ones you share. The traditional board expectations of time, talent and treasure must expand to include transparency on all issues including healthy and just futures for all.

Solution 5: Be fair. Yes. Even if they are not. If divestment is a multi-year process for you then agree to an appropriately-phased in process for getting off fossil fuels for providers and consumers. If you have zero-tolerance for fossil fuel connections externally, then apply that expectation internally.

Solution 6: Be unrelenting on climate ambition. Continuously expect better from fossil fuel companies and all partners, and from yourself and your institution.

Solution 7: Most of all, welcome the protests, demonstrations, die-ins, and public campaigns. Heed their warnings. Create space for them. Create dialogue. Amplify their well-documented research. And create partnerships that use all that marvelous creativity, energy, passion, knowledge and commitment to build lasting change. As Beka Economopolous says, “be an ally” for the issues important to your community, your mission, your world.

Be part of the solutions, not a source only of noise.