A decision by the Science Museum in London to accept a sponsorship from fossil fuel giant Shell for its “Our Future Planet” exhibit has been met with protests and demonstrations, most recently by a student climate action group. Demonstrations by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) resumed on June 20 after police forcibly shut down a staged sit-in protest at the museum the night before.
The Science Museum’s new exhibition is described on its website as a showcase of “cutting-edge technology and nature-based solutions” to the climate crisis, presenting solutions to issues caused by the “burning of fossil fuels.”
UKSCN protestor Izzy Warren, a 17-year-old A-level student from London, told PA that “the fact that Shell, an oil company, is sponsoring the exhibition is absurd.” The youth activist claimed that UKSCN had previously tried to engage with the museum in a number of ways, including boycotts, petitions, and letters to directors.
Initial protests by the group began on June 19, where banners were draped from the museum’s balconies that read “Drop Shell Sponsorship” and “Stop Taking Oil Money.” Several speeches were also live-streamed to the group’s social media platforms, with twenty activists then attempting to occupy the building overnight.
After attempting to stage the sit-in protest on June 19, UKSCN activists were warned by police officers they would be arrested if the demonstration was not abandoned. In a tweet by the London branch of the youth climate organisation, they claimed that more than 30 officers were dispatched to “harass and threaten” the activists.
— ukscn london 🌍🏴 (@ukscn_london) June 19, 2021
“The Science Museum continues to justify the sponsorship and so the protest last night was us taking further action because further action needed to be taken,” Ms. Warren said.
UKSCN’s recent protests against Shell’s sponsorship of the exhibit are not the first demonstrations to take place at the Science Museum. On the opening day of the exhibit on May 19, a group of scientists from the Extinction Rebellion locked themselves to a mechanical tree that is the centrepiece of the Our Future Planet exhibit. The group’s opposition to the sponsorship mirrored that of the UKCSN, explaining that it “gives legitimacy to the fossil fuel giant’s planetary destruction.”
The Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in May included an alternative exhibit to explain to visitors why the protest was happening, as well as speeches by representatives from the Ogoni people, whose land in the Niger Delta has been damaged by activities by Shell. In defending their demonstration, which they claimed was cautious to not damage the exhibit and respected safety regulations, the Extinction Rebellion group pointed to decisions from other museums, such as the Southbank Centre and the British Film Institute, to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry.
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Dr. Aaron Thierry, an ecologist and one of the Extinction Rebellion members to lock himself to the exhibit in May, said that he was “inspired by the Youth Strikes and Extinction Rebellion, who have used civil disobedience to finally force our institutions to respond to the urgency of the climate and ecological emergency and stand up to the corrupting power of the fossil fuel industry.”
The sponsorship announcement was met with fierce opposition from across the scientific community. Extinction Rebellion member and air quality research scientist Peter Knapp labelled the sponsorship “an insult to science,” adding, “if anyone should stand up against Shell and its sickening anti-science propaganda, it should be the Science Museum. I feel betrayed.”
This sentiment was echoed by Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard University, who wrote on Twitter following the announcement of the sponsorship in April that she was “stunned and sad that they [the Science Museum] are helping Shell to greenwash its image.”
In an open letter to the Science Museum published on the UKSCN website, the group condemned the decision to accept the sponsorship, claiming it has provided Shell with “an opportunity for brazen greenwashing.”
The UKSCN also pointed to Shell’s “horrific human rights violations” in the developing world, stating that the group stands alongside “the activists in the Global South who face violence from fossil fuel corporations, such as Shell, and the communities who are and will be hit hardest by climate change, despite contributing the least to cause it.”
It does not appear that the Science Museum has any plans to halt Shell’s sponsorship of the exhibit. After unveiling the sponsorship in April to staunch opposition from environmental groups, the director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford, defended the sponsorship in a statement, maintaining that the museum is “transparent about its long standing relationships” with energy companies such as Shell, adding that the museum would retain “editorial control” of its exhibit.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists or contributors are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: A Climate activist holds a sign at a protest that reads ‘PLANET OVER PROFIT’. Featured Photo Credit: Markus Spiske.