Woodside’s ‘Become Ocean’ sponsorship normalises climate destruction

But the deeper significance of Woodside’s commercial relationship with the Perth Festival is what it says about the functioning of West Australian – and Australian – democracy. As Winton bluntly observed, Woodside’s sponsorship of Become Ocean “shows how far and how wide and how deep we’ve let the influence of fossil capital seep through our culture, and also how bloody hard it’s going to be to extricate ourselves. Because they’re everywhere.”

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It is the pervasive influence of the fossil fuel corporations constituted through an order of power that has held back climate and environmental progress in Australia for so long. This fossil fuel order maladjusts Australian politics, economics, law and society to enable the ongoing exploitation of coal, oil and gas despite the dreadful consequence of severe climate damage and the overwhelming popular mandate for action. The consequence can be understood as a kind of broadscale institutional corrosion, or state capture.

It is this malignant dynamic which allows fossil fuel companies like Woodside to continue to thrive, despite their contribution to looming disaster in Western Australia and globally. But while the influence of the fossil fuel sector might be entrenched, as Winton said, “it is neither immutable nor is it inevitable”.

It is now eight years since the late Desmond Tutu, Nobel Prize-winning hero of the anti-apartheid movement, called for a new boycott: this time of the fossil fuel industry. All over the world, institutions and individuals are beginning to heed the call, including the Tate Museum, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Lego toy company, and The Guardian newspaper. And just a few weeks ago Tennis Australia severed its relationship with Santos.

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In June 2019, leading actor Mark Rylance announced he was quitting the Royal Shakespeare Company because of its failure to end a sponsorship deal with BP. Rylance penned a powerful explanation in which he declared himself “on the side of the world-changing kids, not the world-killing companies”. Under heavy protest, the Royal Shakespeare Company joined the ranks of those severing their relationships with fossil fuel corporations just a few months later.

The climate emergency is upon us and the coal, oil and gas corporations should all be heading for the exit. It is time for Western Australia – and the rest of the nation – to be rid of the deadly political and cultural influence of companies like Woodside.

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