Activists take on BP and Shell in anti-oil action at Science Museum

On Sunday, a coalition of anti-oil activists held a ‘public but unauthorised’ conference at the Science Museum, highlighting the institution’s continued ties with the fossil fuel industry.

The group took over the entrance to the museum’s Cosmonauts exhibition, currently sponsored by BP, and unfurled banners next to a lectern. Many visitors joined the event and showed their support by joining in discussions and taking flyers.

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Activists celebrated earlier this month at the news the Science Museum plans to drop Shell as a sponsor, but are now demanding BP, the sponsor of the current Cosmonauts exhibition, must now go as well. They are also concerned that the chair of fracking industry body UKOOG, Averil Macdonald – who recently made headlines with controversial comments on women and fracking – sits on the Science Museum’s board of trustees.

Members of BP-or-not-BP – best known for their theatrical interventions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and British Museum – presented work based on Freedom of Information requests to the Science Museum. This caused scandal earlier this year when it was revealed that Shell had tried to influence the presentation of the climate change gallery it was sponsoring at the Science Museum. They joined forces with the Progressive Science Institute, a group of PhD students and scientists who believe science should not pretend to be separate from many of the political, economic and social realities which play a huge role in all our lives.

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Museum visitors were also presented with research from Greenpeace’s investigations unit, as well as presentations on energy demand reduction, divestment and the social history of technology.

Protest against oil sponsorship has tended to focus on arts spaces in the UK. However, in the US, relationships between science museums and the fossil fuel industry have come under increasing scrutiny over the last year.  

In March, an open letter signed by dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups called for museums of science and natural history to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers. Signatories included James Hansen, Climatologist, James Power, former President and Director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, and Michael Mann, Meteorologist.

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Pressure on museums to cut ties with fossil fuel industries are likely to increase as we approach the UN climate talks in December. A three day ‘public but unauthorised’ arts festival at the Tate has been called for December 4th-6th by Platform.

A spokesperson for the Progressive Science Institute said:

The Science Museum has a duty to promote scientific solutions to the biggest problem humanity faces: Climate Change. It cannot afford to be linked with those that are causing it.

Chris, who spoke about FOIs and is a member of BP or Not BP, said:

In return for meagre donations, BP and Shell get their logos on the wall of our top museums and galleries, helping to cleanse their tarnished brands. We’ve shifted away from taking money from the tobacco industry – now we need to do the same with oil.


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