Youth strikers slam Science Museum Shell deal

Cross-posted from UKSCN London

  • Young climate activists from the group behind the London climate strikes are calling on the Science Museum to drop Shell sponsorship for their “Our Future Planet” exhibition.
  • Their call is supported by leading climate scientists, including a contributor to the exhibition who says she is unhappy that her name has now been linked to Shell
  • The open letter calls on the Science Museum to drop Shell ‘or we will call for a boycott of this exhibition.’
  • The young activists were outraged to discover placards from the London climate strikes in the Shell-sponsored exhibition

Climate activists from the organisation UKSCN London have written a letter to the Science Museum calling on them to drop Shell sponsorship of their upcoming exhibition on climate change and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The letter has gained support from a wide range of organisations and individuals, including a scientific contributor to the exhibition, many leading scientists and academics, a range of London-based, national and international organisations, trade unions representing culture sector workers, and groups based in Nigeria on the frontlines of Shell’s destruction. The letter calls for a boycott of the exhibition if Shell sponsorship is not dropped.

The letter reads:

‘The fact that Shell, a company with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels, is financially supporting an exhibition about climate change solutions is appalling. We condemn the Science Museum’s decision to accept this sponsorship and provide Shell with an opportunity for brazen green-washing… We are asking the Science Museum to drop Shell sponsorship for the ‘Our Future Planet’ exhibition or we, and the organisations signed below, will call for a boycott of this exhibition.’

The full letter text and signatory list can be read here. It is supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals including Scientists for Global Responsibility, PCS Union Culture Group (representing museum workers) and Culture Unstained, and many scientists and academics including Saleemul Huq, Dr Alison Green and Emeritus Prof. Keith Beven, FRS.

The Science Museum has already faced a huge backlash for their decision to accept funding for this exhibition from Shell, a corporation accused of being complicit in the murder of the Ogoni 9 in Nigeria. Several Nigerian organisations have also supported the letter. Young activists are now joining the more than 30,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition launched by BP or not BP?, calling on the museum to drop Shell sponsorship, to say that there is no place for fossil fuel interests in our cultural institutions.

Anya Nanning Ramamurthy, a spokesperson from UKSCN London said:

‘For the past two and a half years, the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement has been fighting for climate justice. It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see references to our movement in this exhibition, given the sponsor. We stand alongside our fellow activists in the Global South on the front lines of climate change and violence from oil companies like Shell. We refuse to be associated with Shell’s greenwashing, which goes directly against our values as a movement.’

It has also emerged that some contributors to the exhibition had not been made aware of Shell’s sponsorship of the exhibition when they were approached or given an opportunity to raise concerns.

Dr Emma Sayer, a scientist and contributor to the exhibition, has also signed the letter, explaining:

‘I was excited to be involved because the Science Museum performs a fantastic service (both to the public and to science), and the exhibition is timely and worthwhile. However, I was very disappointed to hear that the exhibition was sponsored by Shell and I’m unhappy that my name as a contributor is now linked to that sponsorship. I think the museum’s directors were perhaps a little naive about the strength of feeling around such sponsorship, and they should have been up-front about the sponsors when they approached scientists about contributing to the exhibits. The Science Museum’s management should certainly understand the importance of scientific objectivity and the reluctance of contributors to be linked with a sponsor such as Shell.’

Lazarus Tamana, President of MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) said:

‘Shell do not care much about public opinion, particularly in the Niger Delta. They are bent on polluting, destroying and influencing environmental changes wherever they operate. Shell was driven out of Ogoniland in 1993 due to careless and deliberate operations leading to pollution. They are now bent on returning back for more drilling in Ogoniland in collaboration with the Nigerian government, even though the Ogoni people do not want them, thereby creating more pollution and more climate emergency on the planet. The Science Museum should immediately act sensibly and responsibly to save the planet from further destruction by Shell and other fossil fuel companies.’

The Science Museum Group (SMG) has already come under pressure in recent weeks over its existing partnerships with the oil companies BP and Equinor. Journalist George Monbiot, environmentalist Mark Lynas and comedian Robin Ince all pulled out of the museum’s ongoing series of ‘Climate Talks’ in protest, with Monbiot asking on twitter ‘‘What respectable organisation still takes money from this planetary death machine?’ and Robin Ince writing a highly personal blog expressing his concerns.

You can find out more about the Science Museum’s partnerships with Shell and other fossil fuel companies in this summary by the campaigns and research organisation, Culture Unstained.

After pressure from campaigners, Shell’s long-running relationships with the Natural History Museum, National Gallery, Edinburgh Science Festival, National Theatre, Southbank Centre and British Film Institute have all now been ended. The art activist group Fossil Free Culture NL are campaigning to end Shell’s partnership with the NEMO science museum in Amsterdam after having made Amsterdam’s Museumplein “fossil free” by bringing about the end of Shell’s partnerships with the Van Gogh Museum and the Royal Concertgebouw.

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