Members of UKSCN London ‘occupy’ the Science Museum. Photo: Twitter/@ukscn_london
- Jo Foster and Hannah Fry disagreed with their peers on the board of trustees to open a new gallery sponsored by Adani Green Energy, a subsidiary of the Adani Group.
- Fry said the museum needs to ‘proactively engage with the reasonable concerns opposing their stance on fossil fuel sponsorship’.
- Last week, youth climate activists ‘occupied’ the Science Museum and accused it of ‘greenwashing’ fossil fuel companies and their role in driving the climate crisis.
New Delhi: Two members of the Science Museum Group’s board of trustees have resigned over the London institution’s decision to accept sponsorship from an Adani Group subsidiary for a new gallery, a move that was branded by climate activists as ‘greenwashing’.
Activists had protested the decision, saying the museum should not tie up with fossil fuel companies. It has now emerged that this view was shared by at least two trustees.
Jo Foster and Hannah Fry resigned after disagreeing with the museum’s decision to partner with the Indian fossil-fuel energy giant. On October 19, the Science Museum announced that the new gallery would be called ‘Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery’. The title sponsor, Adani Green Energy, is a subsidiary of the Adani Group that is involved in the extraction of coal and running thermal power plants.
The gallery would “examine how the world can undergo the fastest energy transition in history to curb climate change”, the museum said. It is scheduled to open in 2023.
Dame Mary Archer, chair of the group’s board of trustees, in a statement issued on October 30 said she had “reluctantly accepted” the resignations of Foster and Fry. She said that the board fully respects the scientists’ decision to step down, “which reflects views they expressed during recent board discussions on accepting sponsorship from Adani Green Energy”.
According to India Today, Fry is an associate professor in the Mathematics of Cities at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London. She said, “I do not support the recent agreement with Adani and I think the museum needs to proactively engage with the reasonable concerns opposing their stance on fossil fuel sponsorship so it can retain its vital position as a leader in the national conversation on the climate crisis.”
Foster is the director of the Institute for Research in Schools, a UK-based charity that supports science research among school students.
Archer, the board’s chair, acknowledged that big energy companies “have a responsibility to show more leadership” in speeding up the transition to low-carbon energy sources but defended the Science Museum’s sponsorship deal.
“Given the enormous expertise and wealth tied up in those energy companies, they need to play a much bigger role in urgent change to prevent a climate catastrophe. This potential explains the position taken by the Science Museum Group over the past decade that it would be counter-productive to rule out engaging with the entire sector; sponsorship decisions are made on individual companies, but with so much at stake there will continue to be robust internal discussion about where to draw the line,” the statement said.
The group plans to “engage everyone, including those who disagree with our position”.
Foster and Fry’s resignations come after scientist Chris Rapley, who led the museum from 2007 to 2010, stepped down from the group’s advisory board earlier this month, also citing its stance to accept sponsorships from oil and gas companies.
His decision came after the Science Museum’s decision to make Shell the main sponsor of its ‘Our Future Planet’ exhibition on carbon capture, which received backlash from scientists and activists like Greta Thunberg. As part of the agreement with Shell, the museum signed a gagging clause that prevented it from saying anything that could damage the company’s reputation.
Rapley’s decision “marks a turnaround”, according to reports, as during his tenure as director, he oversaw and defended a sponsorship deal with Shell to fund another gallery in the museum.
“It is a matter of judgment whether uncompromising public protest or ‘soft diplomacy and persuasion’ offer the best way to influence their actions,” he said. “The Science Museum Group has adopted the latter approach and I respect the group’s right to arrive at that decision.”
“However, given the reality of the climate crisis, the need to abolish fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and analyses such as the recent Carbon Tracker Report which bring into question the commitment of the oil and gas companies to do so, I disagree with the group’s ongoing willingness to accept oil and gas sponsorship,” Rapley said, according to Museums Association.
Climate activists ‘occupy’ museum
Last week, youth climate activists occupied the Science Museum to protest its sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies. According to The Guardian, around 30 members of the London branch of the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN London) held a candlelight vigil on the evening of October 26 for “the victims of the museum’s fossil fuel sponsors: Shell, BP, Equinor and Adani”.
Protestors accused the museum of ‘greenwashing’ or obscuring the role played by fossil fuel companies in driving the climate crisis.
since the museum opened at 10am, we’ve been chatting to museum visitors and letting them know what we’ve been up to! the vast majority have been really supportive@sciencemuseum when will you realise you are on the wrong side of history?? pic.twitter.com/Tb8GV63Pk6
— ukscn london 🌍🏴 (@ukscn_london) October 27, 2021
Alexander Penson, a biologist who took part in the sit-in, described the museum’s decision to enter into a relationship with Adani as “appalling”.
According to The Guardian, he said: “The way that they tell it is that they are working with the green energy arm of the company and they then just forget about the coal. We can all agree that we need new green infrastructure, that we need green jobs … but you can’t just then forget about the dirty infrastructure that we need to retire.”
Seventeen-year-old Ines, a member of UKSCN London, told the newspaper that now is the time to abolish fossil fuel companies, “not collaborate with them or invite them into our cultural spaces”.
“The Science Museum’s senior management and board have shut down any attempt at a conversation with young activists and scientists… Meanwhile, they are welcoming some of the worst perpetrators of the climate crisis with open arms,” Ines said, adding that the Science Museum needs to rethink its sponsorship deals before it loses its “remaining credibility and legitimacy as a scientific institution”.
Another demonstrator, Izzy Warren, told BBC that the group includes school pupils, university students and scientists. They chose to occupy the museum because the owners had “ignored their petitions, letters and boycotts”, Warren said.
“We would really like to greet people who come to the museum this morning so they are aware of what they are supporting, and what they are paying for… The Science Museum is blatantly taking money from some of the worst perpetrators of the climate crisis,” Warren told BBC.
According to the BBC, the police said that no arrests were made. “Officers attended and engaged with the protesters and museum staff. The protesters stated their intention was to remain in the museum overnight. This was agreed to by museum staff.”