Trustees resign from Science Museum Group over Adani deal - Museums Association

Trustees resign from Science Museum Group over Adani deal

Turmoil continues over fossil fuel sponsorship as Jo Foster and Hannah Fry step down
Climate Crisis Sponsorship
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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TV and radio mathematician Hannah Fry has resigned as a trustee of the Science Museum Group
TV and radio mathematician Hannah Fry has resigned as a trustee of the Science Museum Group Wikimedia Commons, copyright Sebastiaan ter Burg

Science Museum Group (SMG) board members Jo Foster and Hannah Fry have resigned over the organisation’s new sponsorship deal with Adani Green Energy, an Indian conglomerate that has significant interests in the coal industry.

Foster, director of the Institute for Research in Schools, and Fry, a mathematician well-known for her work on TV and radio, announced their decision over the weekend, on the eve of the crucial Cop26 climate crisis summit in Glasgow in which the SMG is playing a key advocacy role.

In a statement on social media, Fry said: “I do not support the recent agreement with Adani and I think the museum needs to proactively engage with the reasonable concerns opposing their stance on fossil fuel sponsorship so it can retain its vital position as a leader in the national conversation on the climate crisis.”

Fry expanded on her reasons for stepping down in a comment piece in The Times, saying she was concerned about energy companies presenting themselves as transitioning “while spending vast sums on creating new mines and finding new oil fields”.   

“I worry about how easily distracted we are by investment in renewable energy and carbon capture storage, without realising that, given increased global energy demand, it means nothing unless it provokes a marked reduction in burning fossil fuels,” she said.

“But more than that, by allowing such public ties with these companies, I worry that the Science Museum gives the false impression that scientists believe the current efforts of fossil fuel companies are sufficient to avoid disaster.”

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Fry also spoke of her fears that the SMG risks losing public trust through its partnerships with fossil fuel companies.

“Being a credible, trusted voice is a fragile prize that should be preserved above all else,” she said. “The Science Museum should serve as a leader in the national conversation and provide a platform for scientific inspiration on climate matters, but I don’t see that it can do so while it fails to speak out openly on these issues.”

Youth climate activists held a vigil outside the Science Museum last week

She criticised the SMG for reacting “defiantly” to “reasonable voices calling for change”, after youth climate strikers occupied the Science Museum overnight last week for the second time this year.  

Fry said: “This is a debate where young people are leading the charge, and I cannot in good conscience remain in post while the museum is not proactively engaging with the very people it was built to inspire.”

SMG chair of trustees, Mary Archer, said: “I have reluctantly accepted the resignation of Jo Foster and Hannah Fry from the Science Museum Group’s board of trustees. On behalf of the board, I’d like to thank Hannah and Jo for their significant and valued contributions as trustees.

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“We fully respect their decision to step down, which reflects views they expressed during recent board discussions on accepting sponsorship from Adani Green Energy, and they will both remain critical friends of the Science Museum Group. 

“Solutions begin with difficult conversations, among friends, in individual organisations and on the world stage. Differences exist but we agree on so much, including the shared hope that the outcome of the COP26 talks getting underway in Scotland will be a new global consensus to act more urgently to address the existential threat of climate change.”

SMG director Ian Blatchford has consistently defended the organisation’s stance on working with the fossil fuel industry, saying “the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies”.  

In his announcement about the Adani deal last month, which will see the conglomerate fund the Science Museum’s new Energy Revolution gallery, Blatchford indicated that the board was supportive of the partnership. He said: “Trustees […] are not convinced by the argument from some who say we should sever all ties with organisations that are ‘tainted’ by association, direct or indirect, with fossil fuels.”

A display case in the Our Future Planet exhibition that previously held climate strike placards

The resignations follow former Science Museum director Chris Rapley’s decision to step down from the museum’s advisory board last month over the issue. The museum also removed several climate protest placards from its Our Future Planet display recently after donors complained about Shell's sponsorship of the exhibition.

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