Blue Groups Refuse Oil Money

BP Horizon Oil Spill

Across the nation thousands of college students have joined a campaign, inspired by author and climate activist Bill McKibben, to get their universities to divest from fossil fuel companies just as they once got them to purge their portfolios of companies doing business with apartheid-era South Africa.

Yet even many of today’s climate activists are not fully aware that the greatest impacts of fossil-fuel fired climate change are likely to be felt in our ocean and coastal regions. These impacts include ocean warming and sea-level rise, increased erosion, runoff and coastal flooding, more intense hurricanes and El Nino events, melting sea ice and glaciers and ocean acidification that will weaken the ability of all shell forming critters – from certain planktons to oysters to vast coral reefs – to survive.

A warmer, more acidic ocean will also hold less dissolved oxygen. That is better news for jellyfish and bacterial mats that can thrive in hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions than it is for bony fish that provide both marine biodiversity and food security for over a billion humans. Scientists are already seeing the expansion of what they call the, “the oxygen minimum zone,” in waters off California and in other parts of the world.

This is why one of the themes of last May’s Blue Vision Summit in Washington DC that brought hundreds of ocean activist leaders together with their elected officials was, ‘Making Climate a Blue Issue.’ While some of the youth leaders attending this biennial event were already involved in their campus divestment campaigns, other ocean conservation conferences and events were still getting paid sponsorships from oil companies like Exxon and BP.

In the wake of the Summit my organization, Blue Frontier, wrote a sign-on letter on why it’s time for blue groups to stop taking money from fossil-fuel companies that are overheating our planet and ruining our seas. After feedback from several signatories it has now become a pledge signed by 27 blue groups so far including Greenpeace, Waterkeeper Alliance and Blue Frontier. Please read the letter below and the full list of sign-ons to date. It remains open for more organizations to join the pledge. Those interested can contact Blue Frontier at

Marine conservation groups pledge not to accept money from the fossil fuel industry.

Recent gatherings themed around ocean conservation included among their sponsors the American Petroleum Institute, BP, Shell, the French oil giant Total and ExxonMobil. It’s as if a medical convention on how to reduce heart and lung disease were sponsored by coal and tobacco companies.

As leaders of groups dedicated to protecting our public seas and ocean planet we will not accept financial sponsorships from the fossil fuel industry. In addressing the critical challenges our blue planet faces from overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat and climate change we recognize the need to engage with all sectors of the marine community.

However we also understand that almost all ocean users including fishing, shipping, ports, recreation and tourism, science, national defense and clean energy have the potential to be part of a unified effort to sustain our coasts and ocean for future generations.

Forty or fifty years ago the same might have been thought of the fossil fuel industry when oil spills from drilling and shipping were seen as the main challenge for marine conservation and common efforts could be sought to balance the risk of pollution against the need for energy.

Today science and observation informs us that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate disruption including increased coastal storminess, sea level rise, warming seas, loss of arctic sea ice, coral bleaching and ocean acidification among other dangerous impacts. These changes are already putting millions of people and billions in property at risk along with the marine ecosystems we all depend on.

This is why we will not take any contributions from fossil fuel corporations that will allow them to greenwash (or bluewash) their role in climate change and undermine the marine conservation community’s credibility.

We need to make climate a blue issue by educating the public on why we have to make a rapid transition from fossil fuels to clean non-carbon renewable energy on and offshore as part of our greater effort to protect and restore the wonders and promise of our blue marble planet. Not taking money from big oil is a minimal step we all can commit to.

Sue Arnold
California Gray Whale Coalition

James N. Barnes
Executive Director
Antarctic & Southern Ocean Coalition

Anna Cummins
Executive Director
5 Gyres Institute

Jim Curland
Advocacy Program Director
Friends of the Sea Otter

Tim Dillingham
Executive Director
American Littoral Society

Vicki Nichols Goldstein
Colorado Ocean Coalition

Randy Hayes
Executive Director
Foundation Earth

David Helvarg
Executive Director
Blue Frontier

Alex Hobbs
Acting Executive Director
Heal the Bay

Linda Hunter
Executive Director
The Watershed Project

Phillip Johnson
Executive Director
Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition

Laura Kasa
Executive Director
Save Our Shores

Kurt Lieber
Executive Director
Ocean Defenders Alliance

Millard McCleary
Executive Program Director
Reef Relief

David McGuire
Shark Stewards

Bill McKibben
Founder, 350.Org

Wallace j. Nichols, PhD
Blue Mind

Jeff Pantukhoff
President & Founder
The Whaleman Foundation

Louis Psihoyos
Executive Director
Oceanic Preservation Society

Phil Radford
Executive Director
Greenpeace USA

Daniella Dimitrova Russo
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Plastic Pollution Coalition

Carl Safina, PhD
Blue Ocean Institute

Cynthia Sarthou
Executive Director
Gulf Restoration Network

Todd Steiner
Executive Director
Turtle Island Restoration Network

Mike Tidwell
Executive Director
Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Marc A. Yaggi
Executive Director
Waterkeeper Alliance

Cindy Zipf
Executive Director
Clean Ocean Action