Science museum

London’s science museum faces backlash over oil-sponsored climate exhibit

London’s Science Museum is the latest institution to come under scrutiny for its funding sources after a press release revealed an upcoming climate tech exhibit is sponsored by the multinational oil and gas company Shell.

Our future planet, which will start on May 19, is part of a series of programs organized in the run-up to the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow in November. But the museum’s programmatic focus on climate change, activists say, is incompatible with its sponsorship by a company that contributes to global warming. Scientists for Global Responsibility, a UK-based organization that promotes ethical technology, called Shell’s support for the show “incredibly offbeat and irresponsible”.

The show will highlight so-called ‘capture and storage’ technologies for reducing carbon emissions, including the first carbon-absorbing mechanical shaft prototype, which will be on display for the first time in the UK. According to research organization Culture Unstained (CU), these strategies are often used by oil and gas companies to justify their continued production of fossil fuels.

“By allowing Shell to sponsor this exhibit, the Science Museum is helping to reinforce the company’s cynical greenwash, lending dangerous legitimacy to Shell’s exaggerated carbon capture fantasies and pretending to become ‘net zero,'” the co-writer said. CU Director Jess Worth in a statement shared with Hyperallergic.

Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, told Hyperallergic that the museum is “transparent about its longstanding relationship with a limited number of energy companies and how, in all of these partnerships, we retain editorial control.”

“As visitors will see when we reopen, our new exhibition Our future planet examines both cutting-edge technologies and nature-based solutions being developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and makes clear that, alongside reducing carbon emissions, carbon capture and storage can be a contribution to the fight against climate change,” he added. .

According to a blurb on Shell included in the expo’s press release, the company is taking steps to “address the growing global need for more and cleaner energy solutions” and aims to become a net-zero energy company. by 2050.

But as oil companies spend billions to rebrand themselves as eco-friendly, they continue to burn fossil fuels that are inevitably accelerating the climate crisis. Today a group of UK-based climate lawyers released a scathing report accusing the industry’s biggest companies – including Shell – of ‘greenwashing’ through misleading adverts while failing to significantly reduce their environmental impact.

“In reality, no oil and gas company is aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement or on track to cut fossil fuel production as quickly as climate science demands,” says Worth. .

Activists protest against the opening of a new gallery at the Science Museum sponsored by the Norwegian oil company Equinor (then Statoil). (photo by Kristian Buus, courtesy of Culture Unstained)

Although many institutions have ended their partnerships with oil companies in recent years, CU notes – including Tate and the Royal Shakespeare Company – the Science Museum continues to be financially dependent on industry. “Even if the Science Museum were generously funded by the state, I would still like to have the sponsorship of the oil companies“, Blatchford sadly stated.

In 2016, activist group Art Not Oil protested a new children’s gallery in the museum sponsored by Norwegian oil company Equinor (formerly Statoil). During the gallery’s VIP opening, protesters poured a black oil-like substance onto a white carpet to decry the company’s arctic drilling.

“It beggars belief that this iconic British institution has freely chosen to partner with Shell to sponsor their flagship climate exhibit at such a crucial time,” said Bill McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at the University College London, in the CU statement. .

“Obviously they know they are supping with the devil as they have existing links with BP and Equinor,” he added. “I can only conclude that they simply don’t care and have no interest in playing a responsible role in addressing the climate emergency.”