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In 2016, the activist group Art Not Oil dropped over 40,000 snowflakes at the entrance gallery of the Science Museum to protest the institution’s oil sponsorships. (photo by Kristian Buus, courtesy Culture Unstained)

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The Science Museum in London is the latest institution to come under scrutiny for its sources of funding after a press release revealed that a forthcoming exhibition on climate technology is sponsored by the oil and gas multinational Shell.

Our Future Planet, opening on May 19, is part of a series of programs organized in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow this November. But the museum’s programmatic focus on climate change, activists argue, is incompatible with its sponsorship by a corporation contributing to global warming. Scientists for Global Responsibility, a UK-based organization promoting ethical technology, called Shell’s support of the exhibition “staggeringly out-of-step and irresponsible.

The show will highlight so-called “capture and storage” technologies for carbon emission reduction, including the first carbon-absorbing mechanical tree prototype, to be displayed in the UK for the first time. These strategies, says the research organization Culture Unstained (CU), are often used by oil and gas firms to justify their ongoing production of fossil fuels.

“By allowing Shell to sponsor this exhibition, the Science Museum is helping to boost the company’s cynical greenwash, giving dangerous legitimacy to Shell’s overstated carbon capture fantasies and claims to be going ‘net zero,’” said CU co-director Jess Worth in a statement shared with Hyperallergic.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, told Hyperallergic that the museum is “transparent about its long-standing relationship with a limited number of energy companies and how, in all such partnerships, we retain editorial control.”

“As visitors will be able to see for themselves when we reopen, our new exhibition Our Future Planet looks at both the cutting-edge technologies and nature-based solutions being developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and makes clear that, alongside reducing carbon emissions, carbon capture and storage can be one contribution in the fight against climate change,” he added.

According to a blurb about Shell included in the exhibition’s press release, the company is taking steps to “meet the world’s growing need for more and cleaner energy solutions” and aims to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050.

But as oil companies spend billions to rebrand themselves as environmentally friendly, they continue burning fossil fuels that inevitably accelerate the climate crisis. Today, a group of UK-based climate lawyers released a scathing report accusing the industry’s largest firms — including Shell — of “greenwashing” through deceptive advertising while failing to significantly mitigate their environmental impact.

“In reality, no oil and gas company is aligned with the targets in the Paris Agreement or is coming close to reducing fossil fuel production as fast as the climate science demands,” Worth says.

Activists protest at the opening of new gallery at the Science Museum sponsored by Norwegian oil company Equinor (then Statoil). (photo by Kristian Buus, courtesy of Culture Unstained)

Though many institutions have ended their corporate partnerships with oil companies in recent years, CU notes — including Tate and the Royal Shakespeare Company — the Science Museum continues to rely financially on the industry. “Even if the Science Museum were lavishly publicly funded I would still want to have sponsorship from the oil companies,” Blatchford infamously declared.

In 2016, the activist group Art Not Oil protested against a new children’s gallery in the museum sponsored by Norwegian oil company Equinor (formerly Statoil). During the gallery’s VIP opening, demonstrators poured a black, oil-like substance on a white carpet to denounce the company’s Arctic drilling.

“It beggars belief that this iconic British institution has freely chosen to link up with Shell to sponsor their flagship climate exhibition at such a crucial time,” Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at the University College London, said in CU’s statement.

“Clearly they know that they are supping with the devil, as they have existing links with BP and Equinor,” he added. “I can only conclude that they simply don’t care, and have no interest whatsoever in playing a responsible role in tackling the climate emergency.”

Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the Brodsky Scholarship for Latin American...