Art Crimes

"I don't think we're arresting the right people here folks"


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Bill McKibben reflects on his “three-and-a-half decades warning that eventually we’d get to this particular July: the hottest day and week and month on record.”

‘I told you so’ is, in this case, just a different way of saying ‘I couldn’t figure out the right words’ or ‘I couldn’t mobilize enough others.’ Kind people say ‘you tried,’ and I have, but that’s also another way of saying ‘you blew it.’

Ketan Joshi took a look at The Guardian’s homepage and noticed something funny:

Emily Atkin and Arielle Samuelson go into more detail, describing the arrests of climate activists Hoang Hong in Vietnam, Bob Barigye, Mutesi Zarika, Naruwada Shamim, and Nalusiba Phionah in Uganda, Abigail Disney in East Hampton, and Alex Cochrane and Sarah Krischer in Scotland — and the non-arrests of the criminally corrupt architects of the FirstEnergy utility bribery scheme in Ohio, including former CEO Charles Jones, former lobbyist Michael Dowling, and Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).

The Joe Biden administration is taking action on this front, by which I mean the U.S. Department of Justice is bringing federal criminal charges against non-violent climate activists while collaborating with climate polluters.

In May, Declare Emergency1 activists Timothy Martin and Joanna Smith were indicted on charges of “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and injury to a National Gallery of Art exhibit,” with maximum sentences for each protester of ten years in federal prison and $500,000 in fines. Martin and Smith had smeared black and red paint on the display case2 of a Degas ballerina, which the gallery claimed cost it $2400 to clean.

Timothy Martin and Joanna Smith in front of La petite danseuse de quatorze ans (1880) by Edgar Degas at the National Gallery of Art on April 27th.

Sure, most of the public discourse is in the iron grip of Substackers like McKibben, Atkin, and myself, who churn out propaganda in support of the climate protesters and against the fossil-fuel industry, because of whom the planet is tipping over into unlivable heat, immediately endangering the lives of millions and putting human civilization at risk.

But who, you naturally ask, will speak for the museum directors in this time of crisis?3 Why, The New York Times’s Zachary Harrison Small, who penned a recent piece about curators bemoaning the actions of climate activists.4 His cavalier attitude about federal jail time for First Amendment activities was particularly chilling coming from a journalist.

He went into loving detail about how dreadfully expensive the protests have been for museums, letting this plaint from the National Gallery’s director Kaywin Feldman go unchallenged:

“What on earth does Degas’s ‘Little Dancer’ have to do with climate change? Of course, the answer is nothing.”

The vindictive Feldman ‘said she appreciated work done by the authorities “to bring these serious charges.’”

Small could have, instead, considered the pervasive influence and ties and greenwashing services between cultural institutions and the fossil-fuel industry and fossil-fuel capital. For example, he could have interviewed the Natural History Museum’s Beka Economopoulos, who has been working within the museum industry for years now on these issues.

Or he could have considered the attacks on public funding for arts institutions over the decades from the politicians backed by the fossil-fuel industry.5

Or noted that the National Gallery of Art’s board of directors includes billionaire fossil-fuel investor David Rubenstein and fracking services billionaire Mitchell Rales.

Or that the Metropolitan Museum of Art—whose co-chair is billionaire fossil-fuel investor Tony Jamesjust elected climate-denial petrochemical billionaire Julia Koch to the board.

But it’s not terribly surprising that the editors at the Times—which has for decades collaborated with the fossil-fuel industry—did not push Small in that direction.

Symbolic threats to art from climate protesters are a lot less destructive than biblical flood and fire. At some point, the realization that all human culture is under existential threat from climate polluters may be shared by those chosen to curate our cultural treasures. I hope it won’t be too late.

Une mouette rieuse tachetée s'envole sur les vagues du lac Huron. Credit: Gersande La Flèche

Today’s climate hearings are all in the House of Representatives.

At 10 AM, the Financial Services Committee Republicans continue their campaign of climate denial begun last week. The financial institutions subcommittee chaired by Andy Barr (R-Ky.), with ranking member Bill Foster (D-Ill.), one of the few scientists in Congress, will hold a hearing on federal banking climate-risk management actions, grilling the Federal Reserve’s Michael Gibson, the Comptroller of the Currency’s Greg Coleman, FDIC’s Doreen Eberley, and the National Credit Union Administration’s Rendell Jones. Flagstaff’s county treasurer Sarah Benatar will testify on the dangers of legislation that forbids banks from taking into account climate risk.

House appropriators are spending the day marking up the Fiscal Year 2024 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Bill. The $90 billion mark is 8.7% below the President’s budget request. Climate justice, eviction legal assistance, and Amtrak receive huge cuts.

The march toward war with China continues, with the Foreign Affairs’ Indo-Pacific subcommittee reviewing the foreign affairs budget for the region with State Department official Daniel Kritenbrink and USAID official Michael Ronning. The title of the hearing? “Achieving Peace through Strength in the Indo-Pacific.”

Also on Tuesday morning, Homeland Security’s maritime security subcommittee is taking testimony on Strategic Competition in the Arctic. As international relations expert Esther D. Brimmer will testify, “The Arctic sits at the confluence of three phenomena: shifting geopolitics, changing climate, and the far-ranging implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” We’ll be watching to see whether anyone really connects the dots on how it’s not a good thing that the fossil-fueled melting of Arctic is creating the opportunity to drill for more fossil fuels.

Energy and Commerce’s energy and climate subcommittee is hosting a hearing for nuclear energy boosters in support of a raft of pro-nuclear legislation, including bills to limit environmental reviews of reactor construction. In addition to the first panel of administration nuclear officials, the second panel of witnesses includes the notorious anti-environmental troll Ted Nordhaus amid other nuclear-industry lobbyists.

At 2 PM, Natural Resources’ wildlife subcommittee takes a sour look at fifty years of the Endangered Species Act. Administration witnesses are NOAA’s Janet Coit and U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Martha Williams. Representing the extinction interests are East Central Energy’s Justin Jahnz (who wants monarch butterfly protection efforts to be voluntary), Oregon farmer Sean Vibbert (who blames bullfrogs instead of farmers for killing off the spotted frog), and property-rights-ideologue Jonathan Wood of the Property and Environment Research Center. Former Obama-administration Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe will testify in favor of less species extinction.

Also at 2, the E&C oversight subcommittee examines “emerging threats to electric energy infrastructure.” While heat waves, winter storms, floods, and wildfires are mentioned in passing in the witness testimony, what the committee Republicans really want to discuss is cyber, drone, and EMP attacks!

Hearings on the Hill:

Connect with me@[email protected] and on BlueSky.

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1 President Biden has only declared a climate emergency in a deepfake video by Yellow Dot Studios.

2 More properly, as I learned from Small, a “vitrine.”

4 It reads very differently than his 2019 piece mocking opiate billionaire Joss Sackler’s complaints about activists targeting Sackler-funded exhibits.

5 Tomorrow, House appropriators mark up the budget for the National Gallery of Art, cutting $18 million (20%) from the administration’s budget request. $18 million is 750,000 percent larger than $2,400.

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