Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace back boycott of Science Museum’s Shell sponsored climate exhibition

Oil giant has ‘funded anti-science’ and is using museum sponsorship as opportunity for ‘greenwashing’, opponents to relationship say

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 28 April 2021 15:06
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The Science Museum’s new Our Future Planet exhibition in London is sponsored by oil and gas giant Shell
The Science Museum’s new Our Future Planet exhibition in London is sponsored by oil and gas giant Shell

Scientists, conservationists, environmental organisations and human rights NGOs are among the groups backing calls for a boycott of London’s Science Museum’s new exhibition on the climate crisis because of its sponsorship by Shell.

The boycott and a petition calling for the museum to drop Shell - one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies and a producer of huge greenhouse gas emissions - was organised by UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN).

Groups including Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace and Global Witness are all backing the call for a boycott.

In an open letter the UKSCN, who are the organisers of the school strike movement which has brought tens of thousands of children onto the streets to make their voices heard on the climate crisis, said Shell’s sponsorship of an exhibition on climate change solution was “appalling”.

“We condemn the Science Museum’s decision to accept this sponsorship and provide Shell with an opportunity for brazen greenwashing,” they said.

The growing pressure on the Science Museum comes after protests have led to many other institutions cutting their ties to big oil.

These include the Tate’s sponsorship by BP, which ended in 2017 after 26-years following major protests (though BP said its decision was not related to the repeated demonstrations), the Royal Shakespeare Company ended its sponsorship by BP in 2019 following protests, and after pressure from campaigners, Shell’s relationships with the Natural History Museum, National Gallery, Edinburgh Science Festival, National Theatre, Southbank Centre, the British Film Institute, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam have all now also been ended.

Ecologist Dr Aaron Thierry, of Scientists for Extinction Rebellion, told The Independent: “Shell have funded anti-science for decades.

“The Science Museum is forgetting their ethical position by taking dirty money for a climate exhibition as the world’s children are fighting for their future. This is unfathomable.

“The Science Museum must return the money and cut ties with Shell as other leading cultural institutions already have.”

Mel Evans, head of Greenpeace UK’s oil campaign, told The Independent: “This is classic artwashing. Shell is clearly sponsoring this exhibition to give the impression that they’re hard at work on tackling the climate emergency when, in fact, they’re busy fuelling it.

“The oil giant has even failed to set actual targets to cut absolute carbon emissions and reduce oil and gas production, relying instead on unrealistic plans to plant millions of trees. And the main focus of the exhibition, carbon capture and storage, is yet another unproven solution used by the oil industry as an excuse to carry on extracting planet-heating fossil fuels.

“A high-profile institution like the Science Museum should not allow itself to be used as a fig leaf by Shell and should part company with the oil giant for good.”

Barnaby Pace, senior gas campaigner at human rights organisation Global Witness added there was “nothing charitable about fossil fuel sponsorship”, and he said “this is about greenwashing for one of the world’s biggest polluters”.

“Shell has already been exposed as using their position as sponsors at the Science Museum to influence the climate change debate in the past, the Science Museum needs to decide whether it’s an institution for polluters or the public.”

A Shell spokesperson said: “Shell and the Science Museum have a longstanding relationship, based on a shared interest in promoting engagement in science - which will be a key enabler in addressing the challenge to provide more and cleaner energy solutions.

“At Shell our target is to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society. As Shell works with our customers to identify the best paths to decarbonisation, we seek to avoid, reduce and only then mitigate any remaining emissions. Developing carbon capture and storage and using natural sinks are two of a range of ways of decarbonising energy.”

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