Science Museum shuts down youth protest against Shell

The Science Museum in London is once again facing controversy after it asked over 30 police officers to march inside on Saturday evening and threaten to arrest a group of youth climate activists and scientists who were peacefully protesting against the museum’s sponsorship by the oil giant Shell.

On Saturday afternoon, UKSCN London – organisers of the massive youth strikes in London – began their protest at the entrance to the ‘Our Future Planet’ exhibition on carbon capture and storage, which is being sponsored by the oil firm. They set up and hosted what was set to be a 24-hour livestream – a direct response to the museum’s own series of ‘climate talks’ – which would feature a diverse array of speakers including frontline activists from around the world, international climate campaigners and scientists.

Members of UKSCN London running the livestream in front of the Shell-sponsored exhibition. Photo Ron Fassbender.

The protesters were targeting Shell’s sponsorship of the Science Museum’s new exhibition because they believe it is giving the company the opportunity to present itself as embracing climate solutions, when in reality it plans to continue extracting oil and gas way beyond safe climate limits. The International Energy Agency recently said that no investment in new oil and gas is possible if global heating is to stay below 1.5C, the goal set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

They were joined inside the museum by Scientists for XR who talked to the public about climate change and the true impacts of Shell’s activities. Photo Ron Fassbender.

As the museum prepared to close, the group moved to the museum’s iconic ‘Energy Hall’ where they unfurled two massive banners with the words “Drop Shell Sponsorship” and “Stop Taking Oil Money” from a balcony above and informed museum security that they planned to stay throughout the night. 

Photo Ron Fassbender.

They began painting new placards that protest the inclusion of placards within the Shell-sponsored exhibition from the London youth strikes in March 2019 that were put on display without the strike organisers’ knowledge or consent. 

Initially the Science Museum’s security had been willing to facilitate the peaceful protest but at around 8.15pm they were informed that the museum had sufficient police resources to remove them and within 10 minutes the protesters were surrounded by over 30 police officers and told they would have “no hesitation in arresting [them]”. 

The young protesters decided to peacefully exit the Museum, singing together “whose side are you on?”, a song popularised by the Sunrise Movement. As Izzy (17) from UKSCN London put it: 

“It’s really brought attention not just to the Shell sponsorship but also the lengths to which the Science Museum will go to protect that sponsorship deal.” 

But at 1pm on Sunday, the group returned to the Science Museum – along with their supporters – to resume their protest against Shell sponsorship, chanting, making placards and playing a recording of a speech by writer and Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Photo Ron Fassbender.
Photo Ron Fassbender.

The story has been covered widely, including in the Guardian, Evening StandardIndependent, Art Newspaper and Hyperallergic – and was the cover image of the next day’s Business section of the Telegraph.

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