A handful of science and natural history museums around the world have announced in recent weeks that they are cutting ties with the fossil fuel industry, limiting their sponsorships and donations, and removing oil and gas stocks from their investment portfolios.
The Field Museum in Chicago, one of the largest natural history museums in the world,quietly announced Friday it divested its financial portfolio from fossil fuels. The Australian Academy of Sciences said it completed its divestment at the end of October. The California Academy of Sciences and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh have both caved in and instituted new giveaway policies that prohibit them from accepting money from oil and gas interests. The Science Museum in London said last week he would not renew a sponsorship agreement with Royal Dutch Shell.
Earlier this year, a group of climatologists sent a letter to museum directors arguing that such financial links to fossil fuels could “undermine public confidence in the validity of these institutions.” There has been a more recent public reaction when The keeper reported that Shell was sponsoring the London Museum’s climate change exhibit and trying to influence its content.
“With the dwindling public money for museums, they increasingly depend on private funds to keep their doors open,” said Beka Economopoulos, co-founder and director of the Natural History Museum in Brooklyn, a new educational organization that has coordinated the letter of scientists. . “But when institutions that educate people about science and the natural world, and inspire awe in the natural world, draw closer to the fossil fuel industry, they undermine faith and trust public places in them.”
More than 30 climatologists signed the letter when it was published in March; there are now nearly 150 signatories. Economopoulos and his colleagues met with dozens of leading museum directors about the campaign, held booths and organized panel discussions at several major international museum conferences. Interest in the campaign, she says, is growing.
The letter “is certainly something that provokes serious conversation and thought” in the museum world, said Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences. “A few museums (like us) were already on board, and many more were moving in that direction. Others didn’t think about it, but now they are. Others will dig and be resistant. It’s the same kind of reaction we see in universities.
The Field Museum leaked its divestment news in response to a tweet from the Chicago branch of 350.org, saying it had “already disengaged from fossil fuels some time ago.” The museum made no further comment when contacted by InsideClimate News. The decision at the Science Museum in London came to light last week when it responded to a Freedom of Information request from British activist group BP or not BP ?, saying no.intends to renew its existing sponsorship agreement or initiate a new agreement or funding arrangement with Royal Dutch Shell. “
The President of the Australian Academy of Sciences, Andrew Holmes, has announced the divestment of his institution from fossil fuels, which amounts to “million dollars, ”according to a press release– in a speech at a climate science conference on October 27. “Is the value that could be derived from fossil fuel activities sustainable over the long term?” Certainly not from an Earth system perspective – and probably not financially either, ”he said.
The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh has also made the recent decisions without much fanfare. Richard Piacentini, the museum’s executive director, publicly confirmed to InsideClimate News for the first time his decision to divest at the end of October.
“We see this as part of a larger initiative to ensure that all of our investments and actions are consistent with everything we do,” said Piacentini.
The museum, located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal and fracking country, instituted a donation policy prohibiting donation of oil and gas two years ago. In recent years, it has replaced old structures with LEED certified buildings and currently offsets 100% of its electricity with renewable energy credits.
“However talking about energy, renewable energy and climate change on our campus and in our exhibits, it made no sense to be sponsored by the fossil fuel industry,” he said.
The California Academy of Sciences said it had been working to disengage from fossil fuels since 2014. In January, it announced a new giveaways policy prohibiting it from accepting donations from oil and gas companies and, at the summer, it had sold all its direct investments in fossil fuels. fuel companies. The institute is now reviewing any indirect investment in fossil fuels it has in its portfolio, Foley said.
Despite the progress of museums in the United States, Australia and Britain, many other institutions are reluctant to sever their ties to fossil fuels.
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City have faced criticism after scientists’ letter in March honored them for their relationship with David Koch, co-owner of the oil giant and manufacturer. . Koch Industries and a major contributor to climate denial campaigns. Koch is respectively a member of the advisory board and a director and major sponsor of the two museums. Neither has yet moved to cut ties with him.
Economopoulos said many museums argue they need to be objective or neutral when it comes to controversial topics like climate change because they don’t want to alienate any visitor. Others promise that there is a firewall between funders and museum content.
But climatologists and climate advocates cite several examples indicating that such a firewall does not exist. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Texas, for example, largely bypasses the issue of anthropogenic climate change in its exhibits and failed to hang an approved sign describing the link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming. Visitors to the museum can see a massive oil drilling bit, visit a hydraulic fracturing well, and touch a chunk of the Barnett Shale, which fueled the recent natural gas boom in Texas. The institute’s main funders are ExxonMobil and the Rees-Jones Foundation, which was established by the founder of Chief Oil & Gas, among other fossil fuel executives.
“Of course, where you get your funding affects your programming,” Economopoulos said. “When your multi-million dollar funder’s policy is well known, it doesn’t have to be in the room to be influential.”
Museum directors and organizers told InsideClimate News that momentum for the campaign is building.
“I have heard more about this problem since last spring, there is a lot more awareness,” Piacentini said. “I would love to see a rush of people doing the same thing already, but it’s the kind of thing that will take a little longer. The problem is, we don’t have a lot of time.