“Atmosphere: exploring climate change,” the London Science Museum’s exhibit on global warming, is principally sponsored by Shell. You’re asking yourself: Hmm, Shell—isn’t that the name of some trendy “green” startup? No, it’s the same old Shell that fills your gas tank and that was responsible for 76 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions last year. What could go wrong?
The answer is: pretty much exactly what you’d think. Emails obtained by the Guardian via a freedom of information request show that the English-Dutch petroleum behemoth was all too happy to get a little pushy with its suggestions and concerns about the project. One 2014 email read:
“Regards the rubbish archive project [an interactive exhibition examining waste in the context of climate change], xxx and I have some concerns on this exhibition particularly as it creates an opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations.”
It goes on: “Could you please share more information with us on the symposium event planned for September? As you know we receive a great deal of interest around our art sponsorships so need to ensure we do not proactively open up a debate on the topic. Will it be an invite only event?”
And it ends: “Regarding the gallery update, can I check whether you have touched base with [Shell climate change advisor] David Hone to see if he would like to participate in the content refresh?”
The museum acknowledged its relationship with Shell, but maintained that it did not cave to any external pressure regarding the exhibit. And maybe it didn’t! I haven’t been to the museum, but based on this promotional video, it doesn’t seem like the facts and analysis are spun in a particularly Shell-friendly manner. Still: These are the perils of corporate sponsorship. Be wary of the museum’s next big exhibit: A history of the space age sponsored by BP.