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Young climate campaigners vow to keep protesting over Science Museum’s fossil fuel sponsorship

Student climate activists and scientists stage an occupation of the Science Museum, London over its acceptance of sponsorship by the fossil fuels industry.

This week a group of young climate campaigners from the UK Student Climate Network London (UKSCN London) occupied the Science Museum in London and held a vigil outside as part of a protest over fossil fuel sponsorship.

It is the campaigners view that the museum’s continued partnerships with fossil fuel producers is essentially greenwashing the discourse surrounding climate change and needs to stop.

The protest follows a similar one in September when Extinction Rebellion campaigners occupied the Science Museum to voice their opposition to the museum’s fossil fuel sponsorship, which includes ties with Shell, BP, Equinor and more recently a subsidiary or Adani.

Agreement with Shell

In July it was revealed that the Science Museum signed a ‘non-disparagement’ agreement with Shell, the sponsor of its summer exhibition Our Future Our Planet exhibition. This gagging clause ensured that no one associated with the museum would make any statement that would discredit or damage the reputation of the sponsor.

Earlier this month the museum’s Director, Ian Blatchford, blogged about a sponsorship deal with Adani Green Energy to create the Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery for 2023. The renewable energy company is a subsidiary of Adani Group, a conglomerate with coal mining operations in India, Indonesia and Australia.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Overnight protest

The campaigners occupied the Science Museum overnight

Around 30 people took part in the overnight protest inside the museum, with another 30 attending the vigil outside to dispute the sponsorship by oil firms such as Shell and those who are subsidiaries of fossil fuel companies.

Here 17-year-old UKSCN London campaigner Izzy Warren talks to MuseumNext about the aims of the protest and oil sponsorship in museums.

What were the aims and objectives of the protest and did you achieve them? 

We were trying to reclaim the Science Museum from their fossil fuel sponsors and bring the stories and voices that they’d been ignoring into it, which is something we achieved through the vigils outside and inside the museum, as well as through the act of staying overnight.

Obviously, the museum hasn’t dropped oil and coal sponsorship in response to our protest, but we’ve brought even more media attention to the issue and really increased the pressure on them.

What has been the response from the museum? 

We haven’t had a direct response from the museum, it feels like they are trying to ignore us as much as they can. The chair of the Science Museum Group however, Dame Mary Archer, wrote an article in the Telegraph the morning after, doubling down on the excuses and justification for fossil fuel sponsorship.

What does your organisation stand for and when was it established? 

We are a group of young people from across London fighting for climate justice in London and globally. UKSCN London was formed in early 2019 when we began organising the youth climate strikes.

What are your views on museums getting sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and producing exhibitions about climate change? 

First of all, the Science Museum isn’t even claiming that these sponsorship deals are about financial support. In 2019, Ian Blatchford sent an email to museum staff saying: “Even if the Science Museum were lavishly publicly funded, I would still want to have sponsorship from the oil companies.”

He repeatedly emphasises the importance of engaging with the oil and coal industry while legitimate concerns of young people, scientists and impacted communities have been ignored, diminished and side-lined.

Can the Science Museum’s exhibitions still play a role in learning about climate change even though they are sponsored by fossil fuel companies or their subsidiaries?

The idea that the content of an exhibition can be entirely separated from its sponsor just isn’t true. The national curriculum is hugely lacking in climate education and we do need spaces where young people and adults can learn about what is ultimately the greatest crisis we have ever faced, however, that education is undermined by its sponsorship.

Regardless of what the museum says about maintaining editorial independence, they signed a gagging clause with Shell that means they can’t say anything that would damage the sponsors reputation.

If there is one thing I am absolutely certain of, it’s that an honest exhibition about climate change would damage the reputation of one of the largest oil companies in the world.

What is your next step will there be more action/protests?

We are taking a few days to rest and recover and then we will start planning where we go from here, but the Science Museum can be certain that they haven’t seen the last of us.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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