The climate scientist Chris Rapley has resigned from the advisory board of the UK Science Museum group in protest at the institution’s “willingness to accept oil and gas sponsorship”. Earlier this year, the group announced that Shell was a “major sponsor” of Our Future Planet, its flagship climate exhibition.
Rapley, who is professor of climate science at University College London (UCL), was director of the Science Museum from 2007 to 2010. He revealed his decision in a letter to UCL students and youth climate activists at the weekend, saying: “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 company sponsorship.”
The campaign group Culture Unsustained says in a statement: “This is a significant shift in position from Professor Rapley who has in the past staunchly defended oil sponsorship, and worked closely with Shell while at the helm of the Science Museum to set up its sponsorship of another major climate exhibition, Atmosphere, in 2011.”
Rapley also wrote that “there are powerful arguments for influential bodies such as the Science Museum Group to engage with oil and gas companies to encourage them to find their ‘agency’ to transition to a carbon-free global energy system… demonising them can be simplistic and counterproductive.”
Ian Blatchford, the director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group, says in a statement: “I’m deeply grateful for the support and advice Chris has provided to this institution over many years and his ongoing support for our work engaging people on the vital issue of climate change. We respect his decision to step down from his advisory role and he will remain a critical friend, his view much valued in our assessments.” The museum’s advisory board supports and advocates for the museum’s work (Rapley is not a museum trustee).
The Science Museum group faced a wave of criticism from scientists and environmentalists when the sponsorship deal with Shell was announced in April. Blatchford said previously in a statement that "[the group] is transparent about its long-standing relationship with a limited number of energy companies and how, in all such partnerships, we retain editorial control [in exhibitions].” In April 2021, the Science Museum Group announced a target to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2033.
For more, listen to our podcast Should the Science Museum stop taking money from oil companies?