As part of the spectacular Art Not Oil “Festivoil” protest last month, Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action performed a piece of powerful poetry in the “Living and Dying” exhibition, inside the BP-sponsored British Museum.
We’re delighted to be able to publish the full text of the poem here, followed by Ruth’s speech to the crowd, explaining the link between fossil fuel companies like BP and fuel poverty.
So you see, Mrs Boyle why your bills are so high
It’s because of those greens and their pie in the sky
Yes, to save life on earth sounds like quite a reward
But frankly, my friend, we just cannot afford
To be worrying our heads about something so vague
You can’t ostracise oil like some sort of plague
It’s your friend, Mrs Boyle, and moreover, you see,
It is helping you come to museums for free
It’s a friend of the arts, it’s a friend of the poor –
Hang on, what’s that you say?
You can’t take any more?
You don’t want our sponsorship?
You don’t like fracking
You don’t want the pollution
Your neighbours are tracking
The lorries round country roads
Claiming our work corrodes
Everything precious in
Come, you know how it feels to be shivering with cold
And you know you can die of the cold when you’re old
Or disabled or ill or a baby, and others
Just go without food like the thousands of mothers
Who can’t feed both their kids and the meter, so say
They’ll give up their own meals just in order to pay
A high bill –
What? What’s that? Well, yes,
There are a few things we cannot deny
The cost to the earth and the cost to the sky
And the water – and, yes, there are costs to you too
Cos that cheap fossil fuel story isn’t quite true.
There’s a price war right now between Opec and shale
and the forecourt shows how this big industry’s able
to duck and to dive with the price at the pump
and how prices can drop in the face of a slump
but no, this does not alter the overall trend,
does not change what these fossils will cost in the end
They’re diminishing, see, and the deeper we drill
And the further we go, the more species we kill
Well, it does get expensive . . .
And yes, we admit
That we need all the help we can get for new kit
While the cost of renewables is steadily dropping
And would plummet still faster if the state were not topping
Up all our investments and going to war
For our fossil fuel interests and furthermore
Were not setting a strike price for power that’s double
What it would be if they were not taking the trouble
To keep Britain proud as a nuclear state.
We can raise our heads high
If our bills are high too
Well, I think that’s a price well worth paying,
This room is devoted to living and dying
and oil’s promoted by pay-offs and lying.
Yes of course our insurers do tot up the deaths
that are likely from oil spills and from
suicides as debts
and fuel poverty kill –
well, we do need the truth
just in case there’s a bill
like for Deep Sea Horizon
or somebody claims
for their miserable life in the cold
or the blame
most unreasonabully is placed on our should-
ers for plowing ahead when we’ve clearly been told
that the planet can’t take further carbon – but hey!
we’re just doing our jobs and
we’re doing just fine and
we’re legally wed to the firm’s bottom line
It’s the shareholders, see, and our duty to them.
So you see, Mrs Boyle that living and dying
are tied up with oil and our sponsorship here
is fully appropriate —
What’s that again?
You’ll have wind, you’ll have solar
the waves, and the tides,
and it’s not just the polar bears
see through our lies?
We’re not cheap?
We’re not friends?
Of the arts, OR the poor?
We’re just leaving
Now, where was that door?
Not to be overly dramatic or anything, I wanted to point out, in the shadow of this exhibition on living and dying, that fossil fuels are actually dead life, they are ancient life forms that have been stewing underground for eons and are now being dug up or drilled out to suffocate the life that’s on earth now. And we’re being told that this dracula movie scenario is actually the only choice we have.
We’re being told we have to choose between renewable energy that will preserve the climate, and fossil fuels that are supposedly cheap.
If that were true, if that were a real choice, we would really be in trouble.
We are likely to find out this November that 15,000 died from cold homes last year
in the UK, in one of the richest countries in the world — in fact, I want to invite you to come and join Fuel Poverty Action to protest about that!
So if we really had to choose between accepting that slaughter on the one hand
and on the other hand, climate chaos that is already leading to millions of deaths,
we would be in a very tragic place.
Luckily for the human race, it is NOT renewable energy that ‘s causing high bills.
It’s three things:
1. Profiteering by the privatised, unaccountable energy companies (like BP with their $12 billion profit last year)
2. The refusal to invest in renewable energy that, once the investment is made, keeps on giving, year after year, at very little cost – nothing compared to the huge sums required to access oil and other fossil fuels, or the humungous costs of nuclear power. People are not aware that we’re actually being asked to pay for nuclear weapons through our electricity bills. The costs of nuclear energy – even without cleaning up the waste – are so high that the government has had to promise EDF it will double the price of electricity to reward them for the cost of a new power plant at Hinkley so they can keep Britain a member of the nuclear club.
3. The UK has some of the draughtiest, dampest, worst insulated housing in Europe;
and the government has cut all the schemes that were doing something about this.
When Drax power station was planned, campaigners calculated that the money needed to build it could insulate all the homes in East Anglia, and save all the power that Drax would produce. No carbon, no radiation, no pensioners dying of cold, no extra cost — but no profit. And guess what, Drax was built and is still being subsidised with public money, just as oil, coal and gas are subsidised internationally to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
So we’re not only here because fossil fuels cause deaths from pollution and from climate change, we’re also here because they cause deaths and untold misery from the cost of heating our homes.
We’re here with an exhibition on living and dying — let’s choose living, not dying, and shut out BP!
Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Actions performs her poem inside the BP-sponsored British Museum as part of the Art Not Oil protest festival. Photo by Natasha Quarmby/Fields of Light Photography