Oil be damned

Climate activists protest Shell sponsorship of Science Museum climate exhibit

The majority of the UK public thinks that the Science Museum should not accept fossil fuel sponsorship.

The majority of the visitors were shocked to hear about the fossil fuel sponsorship and disagreed with it.

A campaign of successive protests, petitions and letters led by young people and scientists was unleashed a year ago in response to the announcement that Shell would be sponsoring the Science Museum’s new climate change exhibition Our Future Planet.

The entrenched position of the museum even led to the resignation of its adviser and former director Professor Chris Rapley and of two of its trustees, Dr Hannah Fry, the mathematician and presenter, and Dr Jo Foster, the director of the Institute for Research in Schools.

The Science Museum then, in October 2021, decided to name its future 'energy revolution' gallery after the green arm of an Indian corporation Adani.


The Adani Group is investing heavily in new fossil fuel projects, and is planning to double its coal-fired power capacity. The Adani group has also been accused of illegal land purchase and human rights abuses. This is despite its pledge to become carbon neutral and to increase its commitment to renewable energy.

So Indigenous people and those organisations that have defend human rights violations over three continents have added their voices to the scientific opposition to the Science Museum’s stance.

And protesters have been distributing leaflets and talking to the Science Museum’s visitors over several days every month ever since. The group is organised by Extinction Rebellion Hammersmith & Fulham. 

"The majority of the visitors were shocked to hear about fossil fuel companies’ sponsorship and disagreed with it," said Rafela Fitzhugh, a geography teacher. "So we decided to formalise the feedback we were receiving and conducted a survey of Science Museum visitors.”

We interviewed a total of 117 visitors who were queuing outside the Science Museum, armed with clipboards, over three days during the school holidays in February 2022. Two thirds of the respondents felt that it is unacceptable or inappropriate for fossil fuel companies to sponsor exhibitions on climate change and green energy.

The majority of the visitors were shocked to hear about the fossil fuel sponsorship and disagreed with it.


We provided the visitors with a quote from Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The comment reads: “The Science Museum should only accept money from companies genuinely committed to transitioning to a low-carbon economy...and these companies have not - their sponsorship of this exhibit is greenwashing at its best and will only mislead the public.”

We compared this with a comment from Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group. “Even if the Science Museum were lavishly publicly funded I would still want to have sponsorship from the oil companies …. The museum is a much better museum and serves the public much better if it’s engaging with the major players in society.”

Our survey found that eight out of 10 of the visitors we asked agreed with Watson.

Furthermore, one in four visitors said they will definitely not visit the forthcoming Energy Revolution gallery if it is sponsored by Adani, compared with only 16 percent who said the sponsorship would not make any difference. 


The Science Museum relies on its board of trustees to scrutinise its partnerships, including sponsors, as it does not have an ethics committee.

The museum director has, so far, ignored all the protests and petitions. However, every month, more contributors are refusing to work with the Science Museum.

Moreover, our survey suggests that if the Science Museum were to push ahead with this new sponsorship despite the growing opposition, some visitors might begin to rethink their visits and, ultimately, visitor numbers could be impacted.

Cultural institutions like the Science Museum are here to serve the public, not the interests of fossil fuel companies that are greenwashing.

If the Science Museum is losing the trust of its contributors and of its visitors, it is ultimately failing its obligations. Perhaps it is time for the trustees to restore the confidence of the community that the Science Museum serves.

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Dr Caroline Vincent is a supporter of Scientists for XR.