Presentation by PLATFORM at Towards Carfree Cities conference #7 - Istanbul, Turkey August 2007
Unravelling the Carbon Web
Unravelling the Carbon Web is a project by PLATFORM. We work to reduce the environmental and social impacts of oil corporations, to help citizens gain a say in decisions that affect them, and to support the transition to a more sustainable energy economy.
What is the Carbon Web?
'The principal error in political thinking, whether on the left or on the right, has been or is, an excessive or exaggerated belief in "solutions".' ... 'It is global solutions that have to be suspected. Why is that? Because to improve something, you really need to know the texture, the life story of that thing'
John Berger, interview in the Financial Times, 28 June 1999
By looking closely at corporations, trying to get to know their 'texture', their 'life story', we can see the possibility of change.
This presentation focuses on what we (PLATFORM) know, on our city: London; but the impacts of London reach globally: London is the hub of an empire. We believe that Unravelling the Carbon Web will resonate with those of you from around the world.
The focus of our work is to look closely at BP and Shell, two giants of the global oil and gas industry that have head offices in London, our city.
The Structure of an oil company
Oil companies describe their own operations as falling into company 'Divisions' the following diagram could apply equally to any of the major western oil campanies...
However, in our research we have started to understand that an oil companies can also be looked at, structured as a web...
Like many other industries, the oil industry has out-sourced many of the operations described in the above diagram. In PLATFORM's research we have started to understand that there are many people who 'work for the oil industry' who are not directly employed by BP or Shell, for example. In London there are thousands of people working in: banks, law-firms, management-consultants, advertising-agencies, engineering-consultancies, environmental-impact-assessment and many other fields. many of these people do not see themselves as 'working for the oil industry' yet their day-to-day work is essential to Shell, BP and other oil corporations.
Campaigning on oil and gas corporations
But how does all this understanding - about how oil and gas companies are structured - help campaigners for social and ecological justice, who want to change the way multinational oil corporation operate around the world?
'To improve something, you really need to know the texture, the life story of that thing'
Lets look at some examples of how Unraveling the Carbon Web has helped campaigners to become more effective...
The Baku-Ceyhan campaign
The Baku Ceyhan Campaign raises public awareness of the social problems, human rights abuses and environmental damage that are being caused by BP's Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which runs through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
PLATFORM was able to refine the Web Diagram of an oil corporation, adding specific companies and institutions involved in the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
The information was published in a book The book, Some Common Concerns, by PLATFORM et al, published in October 2002
For the Baku-Ceyhan web of institutions, see page 59... (Download is 2.4 MB)
Taking PLATFORM's understanding of the Carbon Web and turning it into direct-action, in 2002 campaigners from London Risingtide occupied of the office of ERM executive chairman Robin Bidwell. Environmental consultants, ERM had carried out environmental impact assessment for BP along the route of the BTC pipeline in a flawed process detailed in the book Some Common Concerns. The demonstrators demanded that ERM cut all links with BP.
A mark should be left in the heart of the Carbon Web
On November 10th 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni colleagues were executed by the Nigerian state for campaigning against the devastation of the Niger Delta by oil companies, especially Shell and Chevron.
In another campaign, inspired by Unraveling the Carbon Web, PLATFORM and others in London decided to mark the 10th anniversary of these executions by commissioning a Living Memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni colleagues. Not a monument to a finished episode but an initiative that highlights - to London - the living reality of the struggle for social and environmental justice.
Artist Sokari Douglas Camp has produced a Battle Bus which is touring Britain, keeping the memory and struggle of the Ogoni Nine alive.
Artists should be at the centre of society keeping alive a utopian vision, because society will not improve if the people envisioning a better society are politicians.
PLATFORM combines the transformatory power of art with the tangible goals of campaigning, the rigour of in-depth research with the vision to promote alternative futures.
As an arts collective (or collective artist) PLATFORM is keen to spread the understanding of Unraveling the Carbon Web in creative ways...
And While London Burns is an operatic audio tour of the Square Mile (London's financial district). A soundtrack for the era of climate change, an opera for one. And while London Burns, takes the listener, equipped with an MP3 player on a walking adventure through streets and alleyways.
'An ingenious way of re-animating this monstrous city, showing some of what lurks in its shadows.'
Nick Kimberley - Evening Standard (London Newspaper)
Unravelling The Carbon Web
You can find details of all the PLATFORM work which makes up the project Unravelling The Carbon Web at www.carbonweb.org