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'BP - World's bniggest corporate criminal'. Time for the Science Museum to stop taking their filthy money. Photo: BP or not BP.
'BP - World's bniggest corporate criminal'. Time for the Science Museum to stop taking their filthy money. Photo: BP or not BP.
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Science Museum must get out of bed with anti-science Big Fossil funders

Drew Pearce

2nd February 2016

Why is BP sponsoring the Science Museum's 'Late' event? It's all part of creating 'scientific consent' for fossil fuels, writes Drew Pearce, in the face of scientific certainty about climate change and the need for drastic cuts in carbon emissions. That's why we gatecrashed their latest show last week.

Fossil fuel companies use their money and influence to appear like allies of science, when in reality the scope of the solutions they are interested in are only the ones that fit in with their profit-driven business model.

Climate change is one of most serious challenges human civilisation has ever faced.

Despite a continued effort by vested interests to undermine or redirect attention away from the science of climate change, we are more certain than ever that the problem is as urgent as it is complex to tackle.

It is not impossible to navigate ourselves through this, but doing so will require deep introspection across almost all aspect of our society and economy.

We will need to consider deep different and sometimes drastic changes to the current status quo. The way in which we prioritise, conduct and communicate science is no exception.

If we were to ask non-scientists whether they thought that scientists were doing research, which would further damage our environment they would likely assume not.

The reality, sadly, falls short of that ideal: despite knowing our oil reserves cannot all be burned, geologists continue to look for more reserves. Physicists, chemists and chemical engineers continue to research technology to better extract more oil from the reserves and access new sources of gas through 'fracking'.

Big Fossil arts sponsorship is is not 'harm free'

In the area of science communication, fossil fuel companies continue to use their money and influence to appear like allies of science, when in reality the scope of the solutions they are interested in are only the ones that fit in with their profit-driven business model.

This problem is clear too in museum and cultural sponsorship by fossil fuel companies. By sponsoring the Science Museum, BP (and previously Shell) gain a legitimacy they do not deserve. BP (and Shell's) own forecasts for fossil fuel use are consistent with over 2C warming.

We are now at a stage where both the scientific consensus and the political consensus (through the Paris agreement) acknowledge that not only should we not exceed 2C but that we should start to aim lower, towards 1.5C - a stark contrast with the future business forecasts of BP and others.

Video: PSI sponsorship protest at Science Museum from PSI on Vimeo.

It is also important to note that BP has a history with the climate-science denying lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has been behind model legislation that attempts to limit renewable energy in the US, stated that human-caused climate change was "uncertain", and described attempts to curb greenhouse gas emission as a "train wreck".

BP claimed in 2015 to be cutting ties with ALEC but BP still funds climate misinformation through other means.

Finally, no discussion of BP can be complete without examining their environmental record. The Deepwater Horizon Oil spill was the largest spill in the history of the oil industry. Before it was sealed it had leaked nearly 5 million barrels of oil.

In 2014 BP announced the clean-up was "substantially complete" the US coasts countered that lots of work still remained. The responsibility for the spill was found to lie predominately with BP's management of the rig. The resulting fines totalled $18.7 billion - the biggest in corporate history. Undeterred, BP is planning to dig deeper wells in the Great Australian Bight.

It was for this reason, that I, along with other members of the Progressive Science Institute (PSI) and members of BP or not BP, gatecrashed the Science Museum's 'Late' event themed around the BP-sponsored exhibit: Cosmonauts. I can not, as a scientist, allow this incompatibility of the Science Museum's aims of communicating science to go unchallenged.

The Science Museum has a duty to represent and communicate the scientific consensus. In 2016, we now have a well-established scientific consensus on climate change and even an international political one through the Paris Agreement, and this has to be reflected at every level of the Science Museum, including its funding partners.

The Paris Agreement deliver unless we make it!

We cannot stop here - the Paris Agreement is nothing if left alone. It relies both on future ramping up of commitments as well as wider society to hold governments to account on keeping the commitments they have made.

Looking forward to 2100 it is clear that if we are to have made it through this challenge then the fossil fuel companies, in anything like their current form, can't possibly exist. Today then, we must fight for this to be reflected in our financial, technological and cultural investments in them.

This means campaigning to move our money away from fossil fuels. It also needs something else: it means a radical change in how we understand Science. Science is not a process that is independent from the society it is part of and cannot afford to cut itself off from the public.

The public must be able to see and input into the priorities and values behind what science is funded. It also means a much louder, self-aware scientific voice in societal and political issues that affect everyone.



Drew Pearce is a PhD student at Imperial College London and a member of the Progressive Science Institute. PSI was founded to challenge the assumption that science is in of and in itself a progressive force in society. The reality is that scientific research is subject to the same political, economic and societal pressures and biases that are faced in any area of human endeavour and only by examining this reality critically can science live up to its ideals.


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