It’s time to take oil away from our arts and culture

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It’s time to take oil away from our arts and culture

By Chris Garrard


Activists take action against Shell. by Kristian Buus

This week our campaign group showed 115 pages of emails between staff at the Science Museum and Shell. We got the emails because of the Freedom of Information Act. They showed that Shell influenced the museum’s ‘Atmosphere’ exhibition on climate science and that Shell asked the museum to help give it a good name.

Shell gives £200,000 ($306,000) a year to the Science Museum and they hope people see it as a wonderful company which gives help with money. Ian Blatchford is the director of the Science Museum. He says, ‘this money helps us to be free for millions of visitors each year.’ In fact, it is government policy to keep the museum free, and the money from Shell is about 0.25% of the museum’s income.

The good name Shell has from giving money means they can do stupid things like offshore drilling in the Arctic. This is only possible now that sea ice is quickly getting less. The money Shell gives to the museum is nothing compared to the billions of dollars it has spent trying to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska.

But Ian Blatchford sees Shell as a good partner for the ‘Atmosphere’ exhibition. The museum says that it made no changes to the exhibition after its emails with Shell. One of Shell’s staff writes, ‘there is now a CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] video that we are making from Shell’s CCS video.’ It is difficult to believe this. There is a situation now at the Science Museum where Shell can suggest a public meeting with invitations only so that no one can see what Shell is really doing. The museum has no problem with this. A good organisation would give back the money to Shell.

This kind of situation around money from oil is there in too many of our cultural institutions. Now BP is giving money to the British Museum for its exhibition on the first peoples of Australia. At the same time it is starting work on four new oil wells off Australia’s south coast. The wells will go deeper than the Macondo well, which started the oil problems for the Gulf of Mexico. It seems the British Museum cannot see how bad this is.

Also in London, Shell is giving itself a good name and giving money to the National Gallery. It has its name with some of the world’s most famous paintings. On Monday 1 June our actors went with activists from the Reclaim the Power camp to hold a theatre protest inside the National Gallery against Shell. They were also supporting Britain’s Public and Commercial Services Union. The Union has had 34 days of strike action against management plans to use a private company for two-thirds of the gallery’s staff. We are seeing these two things together – private companies in our cultural institutions and money from big business.

There are problems with the Science Museum working with Shell. Most scientists say that we must leave two-thirds of fossil fuels in the have a chance of keeping global warming to two degrees. Shell’s business plan is against climate science. Shell wants people to think that burning fossil fuels is a good idea.

In a blog about the emails with Shell Ian Blatchford says that to help climate change we must work with all the important people and not hide. In fact, Ian Blatchford is hiding. Did he hear Jonathan Porritt’s say that after years of trying, working with oil companies on climate change is a waste of time? Does he not know about the years of climate laws stopped by the oil companies talking to the government? Does he not know that fossil fuel companies paid people to say that there is no climate change?

For future generations we must move to a world without oil. The Science Museum can support the future of its visitors, both young and old. It can stop working with Shell and BP. If Ian Blatchford is serious about telling people about climate change, he must stop the museum working with the fossil fuel industry.

Chris Garrard is a campaigner with BP or not BP? You can find out more about the group and join its protests by visiting its website at


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).