Indigenous leader slams Science Museum Director for dismissing Adani concerns as ‘exaggerated’

On Tuesday evening, Director of the Science Museum Group Ian Blatchford appeared on BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts programme Front Row to respond to the growing controversy surrounding the museum’s stance on fossil fuel sponsorship. The museum has been facing a growing backlash since it announced in April that the oil giant Shell would sponsor its climate exhibition ‘Our Future Planet’. But this was the first time a representative of the museum had spoken publicly since the museum announced just last week that coal giant Adani would now sponsor its new ‘Energy Revolution’ gallery set to open in 2023. Meanwhile, as the programme aired on the BBC, youth climate activists from UKSCN London were beginning an overnight occupation at the Science Museum in protest at its stance on fossil fuel funding.

Over the course of the interview with the Director of the Science Museum, Front Row presenter Samira Ahmed invited Ian Blatchford to respond to a several contentious issues, from how much money the museum is getting from Adani (“We won’t be talking about that publicly”) and whether the museum had signed a similar ‘gagging clause’ with Adani to the one included its sponsorship agreement with Shell. Blatchford was also put on the spot over the decision of former Science Museum director and leading climate scientist Chris Rapley to resign from the museum’s Advisory Board because he ‘disagrees with the Group’s ongoing willingness to accept oil and gas company sponsorship.’ 

And since the programme aired, former Science Museum trustee Sarah Dry has tweeted that she argued against taking sponsorship from Adani while she was on the Board, saying ‘It takes strength to admit you’ve made a mistake. Will Ian Blatchford?’

During the interview, Samira Ahmed also highlighted how ‘Adani Green Energy’ – the sponsor of the new energy gallery – is part of the larger Adani conglomerate, which is facing intense opposition across India for its coal expansion, land grabs and pollution, and in Australia for the massive Carmichael coal mine. She asked Blatchford to respond to comments made by Adrian Burragubba, a Traditional Owner of land who has been targeted by Adani in Australia, that ‘by putting this company on a pedestal, the Science Museum is complicit in Adani’s violation of our Human Rights and destruction of our ancestral lands’.

Instead of acknowledging his concerns, Blatchford staunchly defended Adani’s coal business by dismissing Burragubba’s comments, questioning their validity and suggesting that they were exaggerated:

‘Well, Adani and their coal interests in Australia do get accused of a whole variety of things but the company would push back very strongly on those accusations… So, although you’re quoting one voice, I would not say that that is a definitive intervention on the issue, because we’ve thought about two things: not only [Adani’s] response to that and the truth of it – and there is certainly a great tendency for some campaigners to exaggerate very significantly those issues – but also we’re looking at other voices.’ 

Uncle Adrian Burragubba, one of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners of the land where Adani is building its Carmichael coal mine.

Following the broadcast of Front Row, Adrian Burragubba, spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council and senior cultural custodian, issued the following statement:

‘The British Science Museum should be respecting the fundamental human rights of Indigenous peoples. Instead, director Ian Blatchford has dismissed us and chosen to support Adani, a company that is destroying our land and violating our rights.

Every step of the way, Adani has used lies and deception to persecute my people, interfere in our decision making processes, and undermine our rights to self-determination.

In 2014, the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, a representative body made up of hundreds of people, said no to Adani digging a coal mine on our land. We have continued to oppose the Adani mine on our land in five Federal court cases.

Adani has ignored our representatives, divided our people, and used money and influence to manufacture sham agreements. Adani influenced the Prime Minister of Australia to extinguish our native title rights, they bankrupted me personally for standing up for our rights, and made me a trespasser on my own land.

Adani’s coal mine has no Free, Prior and Informed consent from Wangan and Jagalingou people. We know the damage this mine will cause to our ancestral homelands and we continue to oppose it.

Adani’s corporate behaviour is in clear violation of human rights, not only of Indigenous people in Australia, but Indigenous people all around the world. Adani works to shut Indigenous people up, to criminalise us, and bankrupt us. Adani is not a good corporate citizen. I certainly wouldn’t take money from them.’

In addition to this statement, Burragubba posted the following video online, responding directly to the Science Museum’s Director.

Later in the programme, our Co-director Chris Garrard was asked by Samira Ahmed to respond to the Science Museum Director’s defence of his partnerships with major fossil fuel companies which – in addition to Adani – includes the oil firms BP, Shell and Equinor. He said: 

‘I think it’s very concerning that the Director of one of our leading national museums is defending these fossil fuel companies. It really exposes that the Science Museum is not neutral on the issue of climate change. When we talk about ‘engaging’ with fossil fuel companies, people have tried to engage with these companies for decades, and yet we’re still in the situation where BP, Shell and Equinor are still investing in new oil and gas. And so, this new sponsor Adani is planning to increase its coal footprint – it’s behind the largest coal mine in Australia. It’s hugely problematic. The Science Museum needs to be an advocate for climate science, not taking the side of the fossil fuel industry.’

You can listen to the programme by clicking here and hear the full responses of both Ian Blatchford and our Co-director.

Meanwhile, as Front Row aired on the BBC, youth climate activists from UKSCN London were beginning an overnight occupation of the Science Museum in protest at its sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies. The occupation followed a similar protest in June which ended prematurely after the young activists were confronted by an excessive and disproportionate police response

This time, despite having items such as sleeping bags, foil blankets and leaflets confiscated by museum security as they entered, the group refused to leave as the museum closed on Tuesday. They successfully negotiated to remain overnight where they unfurled banners and hosted livestreams on social media. Alongside the occupation, a simultaneous vigil took place outside the museum, focused on ‘remembering both the victims of the climate crisis and the activists and environmental defenders whose deaths the museum’s four fossil fuel sponsors are complicit in’.  

A vigil remembering and highlighting those impacted by the Science Museum’s fossil fuel sponsors was held outside the while youth climate activists held their occupation inside the building

Izzy, 17, a member of UKSCN London, who participated in the occupation, said:

‘We chose to take this action today because the Science Museum has consistently refused to engage with any other tactics. We’ve tried petitions, letters, boycotts and protests, all of which have been met with silence. The Science Museum’s director is failing to do his job by sacrificing the museum’s reputation and credibility for his own admiration of fossil fuel companies. He repeatedly emphasises the importance of engaging with the oil and coal industry while the legitimate concerns of young people, scientists and impacted communities have been ignored, diminished and sidelined. The director of a publicly funded museum shouldn’t be defending the coal industry and the Science Museum shouldn’t belong to the corporations causing the climate crisis; it is time for young people and scientists to reclaim this space from its destructive sponsors.’