Members of the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR) have demanded that the Science Museum cuts its ties with the international oil firm, Shell. During a protest over the weekend, activists locked themselves to railings on the museum’s grounds and several protestors put their arms through the museum’s railings and glued their hands to one another. The protest is part of a wider campaign about the perceived inaction surrounding climate change in the West, specifically in the UK.
According to the protest group, the demonstration was designed to draw public attention to the fact that Shell was behind the commercial sponsorship of the Our Future Planet exhibition at the museum. Protesters said the link between a fossil fuel company and educating the public about greenhouse gas emissions was undermining the Science Museum’s remit.
“Just as governments need to take immediate, rapid and large-scale actions to avoid the worst impacts, museums are expected to educate the public,” XR said. “However, some of the UK’s most revered museums are still accepting money from fossil fuel companies, who exploit this opportunity to obfuscate the truth and to present themselves as being part of the solution while continuing to fuel the crisis.”
Demand to revoke oil sponsorship
Dozens of XR activists initially gathered inside the Science Museum, many with pre-booked tickets that were designed to coincide with one another.
Once inside, they began a procession that demanded the sponsorship deal with the oil company be revoked. Then members of XR Youth, XR Science, XR Families and XR Communities, staged a sit in at the museum while other members of the group attempted to block nearby roads.
Demonstrators were escorted by the police as well as some of the museum’s own security staff as they made progress through the institution. And protesters outside the museum chanted ‘Shell has got to go’. The group, which also included Olympian Laura Baldwin, demanded that ‘no more petrol and no more diesel’ should be produced, claiming that ‘funding fossil fuels is evil’.
The current Our Future Planet exhibition at the Science Museum is focussed on technologies currently being developed to capture and store carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere. However, according to the XR protesters, any deal involving funding from an oil company is unacceptable.
The museum’s response
The Science Museum’s Director, Ian Blatchford, posted a blog about the protests yesterday, saying the Science Museum Group takes its responsibility to engage the public around the science of climate change seriously and also to facilitate peaceful protests during opening hours.
“The reason the Science Museum was among many sites across London to be disrupted by Extinction Rebellion over the past week is that the museum has a long-standing relationship with companies such as Shell, BP and Equinor, who provide money for us to fulfil our mission through sponsorship,” he said.
“I’ve written at length about why the Executive team and the Board of Trustees disagree with activists’ calls for a blanket approach of severing ties with energy companies. We entirely reject the false allegation that curators of Our Future Planet were in any way inhibited in carrying out their vital role in an expert, independent and thorough manner.”
Interested in how museums can respond to the climate crisis? Join us for the Green Museums Summit in March 2022.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.