TGetting money from fossil fuel companies today is like getting money from tobacco companies in the 1990s. The harm that public institutions inflict on themselves by receiving this sponsorship exceeds any benefits. Just as your hands were once stained with nicotine, now they are stained with oil. Tobacco experience suggests that it can take many years to remove these damned stains and restore your reputation.
This is the position in which the Science Museum now stands. He seems to have learned nothing of the reputational damage caused by accepting money from the oil companies BP and Equinor. Last week it revealed that Shell was financing, wait for it, its new exposure on climate degradation.
Although many other large institutions, such as the National Galleries in London and Scotland, the Tate Galleries, the National Theater, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Southbank Center, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, have sever ties with fossil fuel industries, the Science Museum seems determined to be tarred and feathered. Its director, Sir Ian Blatchford, told reporters: “Even if the Science Museum were generously funded with public funds, it would still want to have the patronage of the oil companies.” Something tells me this won’t age well.
The exhibition, called Our future planet, emphasizes technologies that could capture carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels or extract it from the air once it has been released. The Science Museum tells me that Shell had no influence on its design or content. I believe so, but in my opinion, the exhibition aligns perfectly with the agendas of the oil companies. For years, oil companies have tried to delay withdrawing their reserves for as long as possible by emphasizing technical fixes. If carbon dioxide can be captured, this could buy time in which its discovery and drilling, land grabbing and leakage, pollution and profit can continue longer than society could allow.
As Culture Unstained (which seeks to end oil sponsorship) points out, most of the technologies promoted by the exhibition are speculative, extremely expensive, or despite the vast opportunities, it’s just not happening. For example, carbon capture and storage (CCS) – extracting carbon from power plant exhaust gases and then funneling it into geological formations – has been loudly promoted as a leading solution for 20 years. But so far only 26 plants of any kind they’re using it, and 22 of them are rigs that use the CO2 they pump underground to get more oil out of the rocks (a process called enhanced oil recovery).
The commitments with CAC in Shell’s latest annual report they are vague and generic. However, many of its promises to reduce net emissions are based on a combination of this technology and offsets. While capture technologies are generally not materializing, the scale of the carbon cuts required means that emission compensation it is no longer viable. We need to maximize the removal of fossil fuels and maximize carbon extraction, preferably through the regeneration of ecosystems. One is not a substitute for the other.
Yes, we should explore any technology that can help prevent climate breakdown. But we must not allow them to be used as a green wash. Unless fossil fuel companies withdraw their reserves at a rate commensurate with preventing more than 1.5 ° C of warming, they remain a deadly threat to human well-being and the survival of other life forms. So far none of them, not even on paper, have plans compatible with avoiding more than 2C of warming, much less 1.5C. Shell’s program was criticized by environmental groups last week as hazy and half-hearted.
The the company argues, correctly, that its objectives are conditioned to be “in tune with society.” Otherwise, “you are trying to sell products that our customers do not want.” But by producing ads that exaggerate its commitment to reducing emissions, it seeks to appease public opinion and, I believe, delay demand for a transition from fossil fuels. In my opinion, the exhibition in the Science Museum has the same effect.
Worse still, while Shell has cut ties with some pressure groups, it is still a member of several, such as the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Australian Petroleum Exploration and Production Association, what have you looked for hinder climate policies. It expects much of its future earnings to come from growing plastics production. Last year, the American Chemistry Council, to which Shell also belongs, lobbied for trade rules that would overturn Kenya’s strict measures in single-use plastic, and force the country to continue accepting plastic waste from other nations. He wanted to make Kenya “a hub for supplying US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa.”
When I challenged the museum, he pointed me to an article by Blatchford, in which he argued, “We believe the right approach is to engage, debate and challenge companies … to do more to make the global economy less carbon intensive” . I also. But how does accepting your funding help? It doesn’t exactly increase your power, does it? “Do what we tell you or we won’t accept your money anymore.”
This, I think, is a zero-sum game. The credibility that Shell could gain from its association with the Science Museum is the credibility that the Science Museum loses. What Shell seeks, as its CEO admits, it is “a solid social license to operate.” By sponsoring august cultural institutions, oil companies hope to normalize an ecocidal business model. By doing so, they pollute anyone fool enough to take their money.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism