A Group of Climate Change Activists Protest Paul McCartney Exhibit at National Portrait Gallery

Anna Garrison - Author

Aug. 29 2023, Published 2:47 p.m. ET

With increased climate change-fueled disasters such as devastating wildfires, surprising hurricanes, and flooding in places unaccustomed to flooding, it's no surprise that the number of climate change protests has also increased. With technology only advancing more rapidly than ever before, activists are finding new ways to enact meaningful change.

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On Aug. 28, 2023, climate change activists from Fossil Free London staged a protest at the National Portrait Gallery exhibit "Paul McCartney: Eyes of the Storm." Here's what you need to know about why the activists chose this location and what happened during the protest.

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A group of climate change activists staged a protest at the Paul McCartney National Portrait Gallery exhibit.

On Aug. 28, 2023, an estimated 40 members of Fossil Free London gathered at the National Portrait Gallery exhibit "Paul McCartney: Eyes of the Storm" to protest the gallery's sponsor, Bank of America.

Bank of America is the fourth largest fossil fuel financier. According to Green Portfolio, between 2016 and 2021, Bank of America provided $232 billion to fossil fuel companies and projects.

During their hour at the gallery, Fossil Free London sang parody Beatles songs with lyrics modified to draw attention to Bank of America's new investments in oil and gas industries.

Previously, Bank of America made weak attempts at greenwashing by setting a 2030 target for reducing emissions from its portfolios, with a goal of net zero financed emissions by 2050. However, this "Approach to Zero" goal does not include divesting from fossil fuel industries entirely.

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In a video posted to Instagram by Fossil Free London, one activist explained, "Today we're occupying the National Portrait Gallery to demand that they end their partnership with Bank of America, one of the largest financiers of the oil industry. It's time we get oily money out of our politics, our city, and our cultural institutions."

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Bank of America's sponsorship includes support to make £5 exhibition tickets available to anyone aged 30 and under, seven days a week.

The activist also noted that Fossil Free London is launching a campaign from Oct. 14 to Oct. 20, 2023, called "Oil Money Out October." When Bank of America, Shell, BP, and others come to London for their annual conference, Fossil Free London plans to demonstrate at this event.

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According to Energy Voice, following the protest, which only lasted 45 minutes, security evacuated the building and called the police, but no arrests were made. Activist Joanna Warrington said, "Sponsoring the National Portrait Gallery is a cynical way for Bank of America to distract from its abysmal record on fossil fuel financing."

Warrington added, "There can be no future for the arts while new oil pipelines are being laid and new gas wells are being drilled. So we’re calling on the National Portrait Gallery to end its association with this bank that’s setting fire to the culture their exhibitions hope to display. It’s time to cut oily money out of our cultural institutions."

This is not the first time the National Portrait Gallery has become a target for climate activists. In October 2019, topless members of the group Extinction Rebellion covered themselves in fake oil to protest BP's sponsorship deal at the Gallery. In 2023, climate protestors also vandalized a portrait of King Charles III at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

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