The Wonderlab gallery at the Science Museum is sponsored by Equinor (formerly known as Statoil)

Climate scientists urge Science Museum to end oil partnerships

Robert Picheta, 11.07.2018
Almost 50 scientists and environmentalists sign formal complaint
The Science Museum has been urged to end its partnerships with three oil companies by almost 50 scientists and environmentalists, including the broadcaster Chris Packham and the writer Jonathon Porritt.

The experts signed a formal complaint by activist group Culture Unstained, which argued the museum is “undermining its integrity as a scientific institution” by accepting sponsorship from the fossil fuel companies BP, Shell and Equinor.

The group claims that the museum approved the deals despite being aware of the companies’ environmental records, including incidences of “pollution, corruption and links to climate denial”, having obtained its internal reports on the organisations through Freedom of Information requests.

Mat Hope, the editor of the investigative journalism platform DeSmog UK, which assisted with the project, said: “By allowing fossil fuel companies to promote their corporate image without taking responsibility for the environmental and social damage their industry causes, the museum is complicit in ‘greenwashing’.

“The Science Museum should be encouraging critical enquiry and investigation into the companies' actions - not doing their PR for them.”

The Norwegian oil firm Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, sponsors the museum’s Wonderlab Gallery, while BP recently sponsored the research project Enterprising Science.

Chris Brierley, a senior lecturer in climate science at University College London and a signatory of the complaint, said: "The Science Museum deserves extra scrutiny, because they have exhibits about climate change. It should consign fossil fuels to the past.”

Critics have previously claimed that the oil giants have sought to influence exhibitions at the museum. In 2014, Shell attempted to make a section of an exhibition it was sponsoring open by invite-only in order to ensure it did not start a debate around its operations, according to a report in The Guardian the following year.

Other signatories of the complaint include American scientist James Hansen, whose 1988 testimony to Congress helped raise awareness of global warming, and Naomi Oreskes, the professor of the history of science at Harvard University.

The letter was timed to coincide with Shell’s science-themed festival Make The Future Live, held last weekend at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, at which the Science Museum put on performances.

The director of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford, told Museums Journal: “The Science Museum Group’s stance is that external sponsorship is not only necessary, it is a positive aspect of the way we work.

“While I acknowledge the passion of campaigners who would rather we turned our backs on a variety of legitimate business sectors, I strongly believe we are making the right decisions to secure the long-term future of the museum for the public good, a stance agreed by the board of trustees. Any partner that wishes to work with us has to accept that editorial control sits firmly with the museum.”

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