Manchester science festival partners withdraw over Shell sponsorship

Science and industry museum accused of hypocrisy for taking money from oil company

Three partners of a major UK science festival have pulled out in protest at Shell sponsoring its headline exhibition.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, which organises the Manchester science festival, confirmed the partners had withdrawn their events because of the oil company’s sponsorship of its forthcoming electricity exhibition.

MSI said it respected their position and blamed government funding cuts for its decision to accept money from corporate sponsors.

Emails obtained under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act by the campaigning group Culture Unstained showed the partners had accused the museum of hypocrisy.

One, the name of which was redacted, told organisers: “We feel that a festival that promotes science and knowledge contradicts itself by endorsing companies whose contribution to global warming and its denial is so tremendously damaging to society and counterproductive to the pursuit of knowledge.”

Carbon Co-op, a Greater Manchester cooperative that helps homeowners make their properties greener, was one of the organisations to pull out of the festival.

Laura Williams, its events officer, said: “We, like many in Manchester, feel that the Science and Industry Museum offers a vital platform for showing the positive role that technology could play in transforming our world.

“The museum’s decision to take sponsorship from Shell is a betrayal of this, undermining its ability to inspire the next generation on what our future should look like. We know that we’re not alone in this view.”

More than 57,000 people have signed a petition demanding MSI reject Shell’s money.

Chris Packham, the wildlife presenter and naturalist, was among the signatories, saying: “As the world swelters and wildlife struggles in this unprecedented heatwave, MSI has decided to partner with Shell, one of the corporations responsible for fuelling climate change.

“A museum dedicated to science education should not be helping promote any company that is actively exacerbating this planetary emergency, until they show a serious proactive drive to switch to renewables.”

Seventy scientists, campaigners, politicians and local organisations – including the environmentalist Sir Jonathon Porritt, the Manchester-based climate scientist Kevin Anderson, and Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, the co-leaders of the Green party – signed an open letter to the museum’s director, Sally McDonald, calling on her to reject money from a company that continues to exploit fossil fuels.

McDonald responded in a blogpost saying funding partners such as Shell “support our mission to inspire futures by igniting a curiosity in science”.

A Shell spokesperson said: “Shell and the Science Museum Group have a longstanding relationship based on inspiring people about science. Visitors to the Spark of Life exhibition will be able find out how electricity has changed our lives and the impact it could have in the future.”

Last week, Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced it would end its long-running Shell sponsorship deal, with two other Dutch museums following suit.

The Science Museum Group, of which MSI is a member, is already under pressure to justify its partnerships with Shell, BP and Equinor after nearly 50 leading scientists submitted a formal complaint in July, arguing the group is undermining its integrity as a scientific institution by partnering with major fossil fuel companies, despite their continued contribution to climate change.

A spokeswoman for MSI said: “Each year, the Manchester science festival works with more than 160 partners to produce around 120 events across Greater Manchester.

“We can confirm that following the confirmation of Shell as a sponsor for the exhibition Electricity: The spark of life, which is part of the festival programme, three of our partners chose to withdraw their proposals for events at this year’s festival. We respect their decision and continue to have discussions with some of those partners about possible future collaborations.

“Electricity: The spark of life will allow the museum to engage with thousands of young people, and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to tackle some of the big challenges we face in the world, including how to tackle our reliance on fossil fuels and move towards a sustainable future.

“At a time when government funding is declining in real terms, we are only in a position to be able to do this because of the strong support of a range of individual philanthropists, corporate partners and charitable trusts.”


Helen Pidd North of England editor

The GuardianTramp

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