Saturday 15th December 2018
Home / Cover / Science Museum under scrutiny over ties to big oil

Science Museum under scrutiny over ties to big oil

A group of 46 highly-respected scientists, climate experts, naturalists and representatives of impacted communities on Thursday, July 5, 2018 joined forces to lodge a formal complaint to the Science Museum Group, calling on it to end its partnerships with oil giants BP, Shell and Statoil/Equinor.

Science Museum

The museum is accused of ‘undermining its integrity as a scientific institution’ by partnering with BP, Shell and Statoil

The complaint, compiled by Culture Unstained, sets out detailed evidence that the museum breached its Ethics Policy and is undermining its relationships with important stakeholders – especially scientists and young people, and risking its own reputation through these sponsorship deals.

The 40-page complaint presents new evidence uncovered through Freedom of Information requests that the museum was aware of the risks of partnering with oil companies but failed to act, including:

  • The Science Museum’s official “due diligence” reports into the backgrounds of all three companies, which reveal that the museum knew about multiple instances of pollution, corruption and links to climate denial – but did not judge them to be in conflict with its responsibilities as a trusted science institution.
  • No due diligence reports appear to have been created before 2016, despite relationships with Shell and BP going back decades. The report on Shell appears to have only been rapidly created – or immediately updated – the day after the FOI request was submitted.
  • Shell is currently listed as a corporate partner on the museum’s website, but the museum says it has not had a contract with the company since last year, raising questions about why Shell is still being promoted in this way.
  • A potential ‘gagging’ clause in the museum’s contract with Statoil which prevents Science Museum staff and trustees ‘discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation of the sponsor’. This clause becomes problematic given the company’s significant contribution to global warming and the limits this might place on the museum’s freedom to accurately communicate the causes of climate change.

Simon Clydesdale, Oil campaign leader at Global Witness, commented: “The people at the top of the Science Museum clearly think it’s important to know where their money comes from, as they conducted due diligence reports on all three of these oil companies. It is baffling that they could think that money from Shell, a company embroiled in one of the biggest corporate corruption scandals of all time, was clean enough to take.”

Other signatories include representatives of organisations in countries that have been negatively impacted by the companies’ activities, including Nigeria, Norway and West Papua. They also include youth organisations and science teachers concerned that young people are being specifically targeted by the oil companies through these sponsorship deals, while actively putting their futures at risk by continuing to extract fossil fuels.

Lazarus Tamana of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in Nigeria said: “Shell as a corporate entity is operating irresponsibly in Nigeria, involved in corruption, violating human rights and disregarding the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Niger Delta. Shell does not observe its own internal regulations nor Nigerian regulations, causing environmental pollution and many deaths of the Ogoni people and the people of the Niger Delta.”

The complaint, which was submitted by email on the morning of July 5, recommends that the Science Museum Group ends these relationships as soon as is legally possible.

This isn’t the first time the Science Museum has come under scrutiny over its partnerships with fossil fuel companies. In 2015, emails revealed how Shell had attempted to influence the framing of the museum’s climate science exhibition “Atmosphere”, and the following year more than 50 scientists, politicians and campaigners signed a letter to The Guardian calling on the museum to drop Statoil as the title sponsor of its new interactive gallery for children, “Wonderlab: the Statoil gallery”. Both the BP-sponsored “Cosmonauts” exhibition and the official opening of Wonderlab were met with creative protests by members of the Art Not Oil coalition and youth activists from Norway.

Jess Worth, co-director of Culture Unstained, said: “The Science Museum is engaging in a form of everyday climate denial by continuing to promote the brands of three oil companies while being fully aware of their colossal climate impacts and unethical business practices. At a time when major cities are launching legal action against these same companies for their contributions to global warming, it is inexcusable for a museum of science to help them pose as ethical and responsible when we are amid a crisis they are actively exacerbating.”

Signatories to the complaint include: Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham, Distinguished Research Fellow, Physics Department, Imperial College London; Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation and winner of the Right Livelihood Award, Nigeria; Dr Alice Bell, climate campaigner and writer; Professor Sarah Bell, Professor of Environmental Engineering, UCL; Dr Jason Box, expert in atmosphere-ice interactions and physical climatology of Greenland; Dr Chris Brierley, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, UCL; Dr Sarah R Davies, Associate Professor, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen; Dr Deirdre Duff, Molecular Biologist; Gaute Eiterjord, Chair of Natur og Ungdom/Nature and Youth, Norway; Dr Matt Folley, Senior Research Fellow, Marine Renewable Energy Group, Queen’s University Belfast; Dr Peter C. Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy, Chief Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists; Dr Andy Fugard, Senior Lecturer in Social Science Research Methods, Birkbeck, University of London; Dr James Hansen, Director of Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, Earth Institute, Columbia University; Professor Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, University of Surrey; and Professor David A. Kirby, Programme Director for MSc in Science Communication, University of Manchester.

They also include: Jeremy Leggett, author, solar entrepreneur and advocate; Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol; Professor Simon Lewis, Chair in Global Change Science, University College London; Dr Barbara Magennis, Science Teacher; Dr Michael Mason, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Environment, LSE; Professor James J. McCarthy, Professor of Oceanography, Harvard University; Dr David McCoy, Professor of Global Public Health, Queen Mary’s University London; Professor Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL; Dr Felicity Mellor, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, Imperial College; Professor Hugh Montgomery, UCL Professor of Intensive Care Medicine; Dr Frances Mortimer, Director, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare; Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact; Professor Jonathan Oppenheim, Professor of Quantum Theory, UCL; Professor Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University; Chris Packham, naturalist and broadcaster; Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility; Drew Pearce, Progressive Science Institute; and Professor Kate E Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University Champion for Research on Justice and Equality, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Future Health, University of York.

Others are: Sir Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist and writer; Professor Malcolm J W Povey, Professor of Food Physics at University of Leeds; Kate Raworth, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford; Dr Beth Rice, Imperial College; Alom Shaha, science teacher and writer; Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute; Hannah Smith, Co-director: research and campaigns, People & Planet; Dr Geoffrey Supran, Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University & Post-Doctoral Affiliate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Lazarus Tamana, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People; Hugh Warwick, naturalist and author; Dr Philip Webber, Chair, Scientists for Global Responsibility; Dr Stephen Webster, Director, Imperial College Science Communication Unit; and, Benny Wenda, West Papua independence leader and Chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.