Science Museum Head Defends Shell Sponsorship of Climate Change Exhibition

Over 50,000 people have signed a petition calling on the museum to drop the fossil fuel company as a sponsor of the “Our Future Planet” exhibition.
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London Science Museum. Credit: Shadowssettle (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The director of the Science Museum in London has defended Shell’s sponsorship of a climate change exhibition amid growing public calls for the museum to cut ties with the energy giant.  

Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, wrote in an email to staff on 29 April, posted online by Culture Unstained, that sponsorship by energy companies like Shell, BP, and Equinor were achieving a “public good” by educating people about climate change, including possible solutions.    

Over 50,000 people have signed a petition calling on the museum to drop Shell as a sponsor of the “Our Future Planet” exhibition, which opens 19 May and focuses on controversial carbon, capture and storage technology ahead of November’s COP26 UN climate summit.  

statement by youth activists from the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) London calling for a boycott of the exhibition has been supported by scientists, climate organisations, and NGOs.  

In his email, Blatchford wrote: “Campaigners who want us to sever our ties with Shell, BP and Equinor are ignoring the reality that these companies have the capital, geography, people and logistics to be major players in finding solutions to the urgent challenges of climate change. And we must continue to challenge them to show more leadership to deliver on this potential.  

“As we do so, we should also remember the public good we’re achieving with sponsorship from Shell, Equinor and BP such as the Atmosphere Gallery and Wonderlab at the Science Museum or the Science Museum Group Academy in furthering public understanding of the challenges and some of the solutions to the greatest issue facing humanity today. “ 

He said the three energy companies “have all made commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement” and plan to invest in renewable energy. Environmentalists have, however, criticized Shell’s net zero plans for an “impossible” reliance on tree-planting as a method of decarbonizing. 

Blatchford, who since 15 May has been on research leave from his post, added: “It is arguably better that we help to keep them publicly accountable on the museum ‘stage’ and through our programme, rather than allow the scrutiny about their performance to be relegated to the obscurity of shareholder meetings.”   

The Science Museum is already under pressure from campaigners over its relationships with BP and Equinor, with a number of speakers pulling out of its “Climate Talks” series in protest.  

A spokesperson for UKSCN London has said of the “Our Future Planet” event: “It is appalling that Shell, a company causing mass environmental degradation, is sponsoring an exhibition on climate solutions.”

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Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.

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