Science Museum: trustees resign, young people barred

On Saturday afternoon, a statement issued by the Chair of the Science Museum Group confirmed that both mathematician and presenter Dr Hannah Fry and Director of the Institute for Research in Schools Dr Jo Foster have resigned from the museum’s Board of Trustees over its stance on fossil fuel sponsorship, setting out how they did not agree with the museum’s decision to let coal giant Adani sponsor the museum’s new ‘Energy Revolution’ gallery, due to open in 2023.

Earlier that morning in a comment piece in The Times, Hannah Fry powerfully set out her reasons for resigning from the museum’s Board:

‘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.’

In particular, she highlighted the museum’s dismissiveness towards those that have been raising concerns:

In the last week, the museum has reacted defiantly amid the reasonable voices calling for change… 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.’

Despite her concerns about the museum’s failure to meaningfully engage with young people, the Science Museum has failed to take note. On Sunday, it barred members of the youth climate group UKSCN London from entering the museum who were planning to take photos of changes that had been made to the Shell-sponsored ‘Our Future Planet’ exhibition. Placards from the London youth climate strikes in 2019 – which had been organised by UKSCN London – were originally on display but have now been removed after youth strikers wrote to the museum calling for their removal.

Just a few weeks ago, climate scientist – and former Science Museum Director – Professor Chris Rapley resigned from the Science Museum’s ‘Advisory Board’, a separate body to the Board of Trustees but one that plays an important role in the museum’s decision-making. In a letter explaining the reasons behind his resignation, he states:

‘Given the reality of the climate crisis, the need to abolish fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and analyses such as the recent Carbon Tracker Report which bring into question the commitment of the oil and gas companies to do so, I disagree with the Group’s ongoing willingness to accept oil and gas company sponsorship.’

Earlier this week, former trustee Dr Sarah Dry highlighted how, during her time on the museum’s Board, she had opposed the museum’s decision to accept sponsorship from coal giant Adani.

Following the announcement of the resignations of Dr Hannah Fry and Dr Jo Foster, Professor Christopher Jackson tweeted that he had turned down an invitation to apply to be a trustee at the Science Museum.

The double resignation – as well as comments by Dr Sarah Dry about her time as a trustee – appear to contradict an assertion that had been made by Science Museum Group Director Ian Blatchford when the Adani sponsorship was announced: 

‘Trustees of the Science Museum Group 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. We believe the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies, governments and individuals to do more to make the global economy less carbon intensive.’

Blatchford has also been widely criticised following an interview on BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts programme Front Row last week where he staunchly defended Adani’s coal mining business by dismissing concerns of Traditional Owner Adrian Burragubba who has been directly targeted by Adani:

‘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.’

The Front Row interview went out while the Science Museum was being occupied by UKSCN London and allies, and a vigil, featuring representatives of communities impacted by the museum’s fossil fuel sponsors in Nigeria, West Papua, the Pacific and Senegal, was taking place outside.

Koteka Wenda from the Free West Papua campaign – opposing BP’s involvement in supporting Indonesia’s occupation of her homeland – meets the Pacific Climate Warriors – opposing Adani’s destructive coal mine in Australia – at the vigil outside the Science Museum.