Offaly campaigner steps up battle against fossil fuel industry sponsorship of schools and sport
24 Apr 2023 7:13 PM
THE launch of a climate change awareness initiative headed up by Offaly campaigner Tom Roche has heard calls for schools participating in the Texaco Children’s Art competition to be banned from the green flag project.
In collaboration with Mr Roche’s Just Forests organisation, environmental campaigners Colm Regan and Peadar King unveiled SpoArts Wash, a booklet which they say exposes Ireland’s fossil fuel sponsorship culture, and The Big Irish Fossil Fuel Sponsorship Debate!, a resource aimed at schools. Speaking at the launch of the publications in a Zoom call on Monday, Mr Roche explained that companies engaged in “greenwashing” through art and sports sponsorship were his targets.
A native of Tullamore who lives in Rhode, Mr Roche (pictured below during the ZOOM launch) said fossil fuels are at the core of climate change and Just Forests had argued for many years that Texaco into schools and sports clubs “created an entirely false and absolutely unacceptable impression that they are an integral part of our community and a partner in tackling climate change”.
He declared: “This simply must be challenged. Companies like Texaco are the problem, not the solution.”
He said it always amused him how schoolchildren could enter a Texaco art competition on the one hand, while attending a school with a green flag on the other.
“The school has a green flag while being sponsored in its art work by a fossil fuel company. That is a massive visible contradiction in terms.”
He said he received no response from the Department of Education when he asked for a comment.
John Gibbons, a journalist and commentator who has written and spoken extensively on these issues, said his own daughter was a Texaco art winner in 2007. “Even I didn’t make the connection,” he confessed.
He said fossil fuel companies’ campaigns were so brilliantly marketed that they were “hiding in plain sight, inside our culture”.
“This is essentially washing the blood and oil off their hands,” said Mr Gibbons.
He used the analogy of the tobacco industry, saying that cigarettes were once considered harmless until it was accepted that 50% of smokers died prematurely. Cigarette smoking is no longer socially acceptable.
“They are not illegal but the social licence for smoking has been completely withdrawn.”
He said the fossil fuel industry is the most dangerous industry in the history of humans and since the 1970s and 1980s Exxon and Shell knew they were “changing the chemistry of the planet” but they chose to retain the business model for profit over the future of life.
“Ecocide” is not yet recognised as a crime against humanity and the fossil fuel companies had deliberately decided not to rein themselves in.
“They need to be kicked out of our schools,” said Mr Gibbons.
Another contributor to the launch, Catherine Cleary, journalist and co-founder of Pocket Forests, pointed out that fossil fuel logos are “everywhere”, citing the example of the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.
Ms Cleary said France had banned fossil fuel advertising this year and her opinion was that the rest of the world will follow suit. “The industry is fighting back with mind boggling budgets,” she remarked.
“New figures published just today show that air pollution is killing 100 European children every month.”
Having their name on an art competition gives a company a social licence. “It’s up to teachers to not involve their schoolchildren, their pupils, in this art competition. And parents to say no. Social licence can be taken away very quickly.”
International perspectives were given by Patrick Alley of Global Witness, Peadar King, and the lawyer Steven Donziger.
Mr Alley said the fossil fuel industry is benefiting from the Ukraine war but at the same time noted: “The International Energy Agency said last year there can be no new exploration for oil and gas if we’re to stay within the 1.5 degree temperature rise.”
His organisation had filed a complaint with United States Securities and Exchange Commission about Shell saying they spent 12% of their revenues on renewable energy whereas Global Witness say it was just 1.5%.
Mr Alley also said that 200 delegates at the last COP summit in Egypt were fossil fuel company representatives on national delegations.
He praised Mr Roche and his two colleagues for their efforts and predicted: “The fossil fuel industry are powerful but they’re on the wrong side of history. They will become extinct.”
Excerpts from documentaries made by Mr King showed how one group of indigenous people in Ecuador successfully campaigned to end oil exploration but another in a different part of the country saw their land contaminated with toxic waste.
The cause of the latter people was taken up by US human rights lawyer Steven Donziger who said the community ultimately won a $10m judgment against Chevron. “They refused to pay the judgment,” said Mr Donziger (pictured below), who joined the Zoom call from New York.
He was personally sued himself, can no longer work as a lawyer, was placed under house arrest long term with an ankle bracelet and detained for 45 days. His passport has still not been returned to him.
“It’s particularly pernicious when they go after children as I think is happening in your country. I’ve seen this story all over the place. It’s not new.”
He said the response of the Irish campaigners could be a model and a symbol for what can be done by dedicated citizens. “I salute everyone, all you folks and I’m so appreciative of what you’re doing.”
Duncan Stewart, the well known TV programme maker told the launch that he met Dublin football fans on the train to the capital at the weekend and found “an incredible lack of knowledge” about climate change.
Mr Stewart said he noticed the “cynicism of people” who were “defending their lifestyles and fossil fuel use. And joking about climate change.”
He was encouraged that 50 second level schools, especially the Transition Year classes, had signed up for the environmental education initiative EcoEd4all.
Colm Regan concluded with an appeal to schools and sports clubs: “What’s involved here is a matter of principle, a matter of fundamental principle in terms of what schooling is about, what sport is about, what community is about, and what fossil fuel companies are about.”