Shell sought to influence direction of Science Museum climate programme
Oil giant raised concerns one part of the project, which it sponsored, could give NGOs opportunity to open up debate on its operations, internal emails show
Sunday 31 May 2015 20.17 BST
Shell tried to influence the presentation of a climate change programme it was sponsoring at the Science Museum in London, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.
The Anglo-Dutch oil group raised concerns with the museum that one part of the project “creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations”.
The company also wanted to know whether a particular symposium at the museum was “invite only” – as that would ensure “we do not proactively open up a debate on the topic [of Shell’s operations]”.
The concerns are raised in a series of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and once again raise awkward questions about the influence of fossil fuel companies over Britain’s most valued cultural institutions.
“These emails reveal that the Science Museum is a significant cog in Shell’s propaganda machine,” said Chris Garrard, from the anti-oil sponsorship campaign group BP or not BP?
Shell is keen to present itself as a responsible company that is trying to tackle climate change but critics say its commitment to tar sands, deep water wells and Arctic exploration are at odds with this stance.
The emails, which have all names redacted, follow the decision by the oil company to become a principal sponsor of the Atmosphere, Exploring Climate Science gallery and the extended Climate Changing programme at the Science Museum.
The Atmosphere gallery was designed to deepen public understanding of global warming but Shell’s own climate change adviser – former oil trader David Hone – made recommendations on what should be included.
Emails show the close relationship between the Science Museum and Shell with the two discussing how they should react to expected criticism from Greenpeace following a Guardian story in October 2014. In that story, the Science Museum’s former director Chris Rapley criticised Greenpeace’s successful campaign to make Lego drop its partnership with Shell.
In another communication with the Science Museum dated 9 December 2014, a Shell staff member gives what they call a “heads up” on a Reuters story reporting that Shell’s Arctic drilling contractor, Noble, has pleaded guilty to eight charges of pollution and poor record keeping.
But the most damaging email is dated 8 May 2014 when a Shell employee receives an update from the Science Museum and replies. “Regards the rubbish archive project [an interactive exhibition examining waste in the context of climate change], xxx and I have some concerns on this exhibition particularly as it creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations.”
It goes on: “Could you please share more information with us on the symposium event planned for September? As you know we receive a great deal of interest around our art sponsorships so need to ensure we do not proactively open up a debate on the topic. Will it be an invite only event?”
And it ends: “Regarding the gallery update, can I check whether you have touched base with David Hone to see if he would like to participate in the content refresh?”
Garrard said he was concerned that the close relationship between big oil and the Science Museum was set to continue with BP sponsoring a forthcoming exhibition, Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age.
A recent book argued that fossil fuel companies were sponsoring the arts around the world on an “epidemic” scale as a cynical PR strategy to improve their reputation.
CLIMATE-CHANGE activists swooped on David Cameron’s constituency office yesterday to stage a “love-in” protest against his tendency to get “in bed with the big six” energy companies: here.
Multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday that it would eliminate 6,500 positions this year and slash investment by $7 billion. These moves were accompanied by an announcement that Shell is planning to proceed with a takeover of BG Group, a move which will likely result in further layoffs: here.