30th July 2021
To: Ian Blatchford, Jonathan Newby and the trustees of the Science Museum Group from CDE
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 The science that the Paris Agreement and COP process is based upon is already out of date.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.
Co-ordinators’ circle of Culture Declares Emergency
* Context about the leaked IPCC report https://www.politico.com/news/2021/07/02/climate-scientists-exxon-mobile-report-497805