Open letter from Culture Declares Emergency in solidarity with campaigners for the Science Museum Group to drop fossil fuel sponsors

The letter was sent on Friday 30th July 2021 from CDE to the recipients below.

At the end of the letter there is more information from Culture Unstained on the deal between the Science Museum and Shell, including the ‘gagging’ order that the SMG agreed to.

30th July 2021

To Jonathan Newby, Ian Blatchford, Dame Mary Archer and The Board of the Science Museum Group,

Letter from Culture Declares Emergency in solidarity with campaigners for the Science Museum Group to drop fossil fuel sponsors.

We represent thousands of culture sector workers and organisations, mostly based in the UK, who have come together to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency. We express our solidarity with campaigners, particularly student activists and scientists, calling for the Science Museum Group to end its relationships with fossil fuel sponsors. We echo the campaigners’ concern that a national museum appears more committed to protecting the interests of multinational oil companies than it does the right of the public and museum staff to speak out and protest.

The leaked IPCC report for 2022 warns that the dire impacts of global heating are materialising far faster than most scientists expected. It predicts a ferocious century of climate impacts, particularly in poor countries. The science that the Paris Agreement and COP process is based upon is already out of date. The new IPCC report shows that current scientific consensus places the blame for inaction directly on the fossil fuel industry.*

Sponsoring exhibitions is an effective way for fossil fuel companies to gain social licence to continue profiting from extraction, pollution, human rights abuses and predatory delay on climate action. Their sponsorship of a museum committed to equitable science education, and with a new focus on educating about the planetary emergency caused by anthropogenic industrial activity, raises big questions about their motives and continuing ability to manipulate public opinion. SMG is sponsored by three oil companies, Equinor, BP and Shell, with Shell having one of the worst records. A Dutch court has ruled that Shell’s climate pledges “largely amount to rather intangible, undefined and non-binding plans for the long-term”, that the company’s “emissions reduction targets for 2030 are lacking completely”, and that it must slash its emissions by 45% by 2030 to meet the Paris targets. Yet, instead of agreeing to meet its obligations, Shell is appealing the ruling.

We express support to those who are boycotting the exhibition and concerned solidarity with all SMG staff, contractors, and partners who have been placed in a difficult and ethically stressful situation by the way this sponsorship arrangement has been handled and by the heavy-handed treatment of the peaceful protesters.

We call on the Board of Trustees of the SMG and on the Museums Association and National Museum Directors Council to consider and express their views on the following:

  • Should senior museum managers invite the police to break up peaceful, educational protests that include minors (as SMG did on 19th June)?
  • Should museums overtly build friendly relationships with fossil fuel companies and facilitate their attempts to convince the public that they are agents for decarbonisation?
  • Should publicly funded museums maintain secrecy around sponsorship arrangements in ways that pressure or mislead staff and contributors? (It is clear that when such arrangements are publicly discussed, they are less effective at washing a company’s reputation.)
  • Should museums revise their policies on equity, access and justice to include reference to the gross injustices against all those whose places, livelihoods, health, wellbeing and hopes are being destroyed by climate breakdown and the direct harms of the fossil fuel industry?

We are currently revising our guidance on ethical finance, fundraising and sponsorship. We would be grateful to know the views of sector representatives, including the board and management of SMG, on these questions to help with this process.

We also welcome anyone who has not yet declared with us, as an individual or organisation, to sign up and join us in discussing these issues.

Yours sincerely

Co-ordinators’ circle of Culture Declares Emergency

* Context about the leaked IPCC report

Read Jonathan Newby’s reply and our latest correspondence

On 29th July 2021 Channel 4 News covered our latest investigation into the outrageous decision by the Science Museum to allow Shell to sponsor its flagship climate exhibition. Our research has revealed:

  • The Science Museum Group signed a “gagging clause” with Shell committing not to “damage the goodwill or reputation” of the oil giant, despite major controversy surrounding Shell’s climate impacts
  • The museum’s Director also sought sponsorship for the exhibition from a controversial group of 12 oil firms – the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative – renowned for their high emissions, climate denial and delay
  • The Museum walked away from this deal over just one oil company’s record, exposing major flaws in its criteria for scrutinising sponsors’ climate credentials
  • The Museum dismissed ethical conflicts around Shell’s human rights and environmental record in its “due diligence” process

Read the full story here, watch the Channel 4 News report here, and please help us amplify both through your networks!

Here’s a twitter thread to share that covers the main revelations, and an article in today’s Times (paywall).

About Culture Declares Emergency

We are a growing international movement of individuals and organisations in the cultural sector declaring climate and ecological emergency. This means telling the truth, taking action and seeking justice.

  • Our Vision: The cultural sector is a leading contributor to creating a regenerative future that protects the planet and sustains everyone everywhere.
  • Our Mission: To grow, support and mobilise a movement of declarers in the UK cultural sector and inspire and work with others internationally.
  • Our Values: Truth-telling, Action-taking and Justice-seeking underpin our Values.
  • Find out more


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