By Guest • Friday, September 29, 2017 – 08:01
By Chris Garrard, a member of the Art Not Oil coalition of groups that campaigns against oil sponsorship of arts and culture.
Yesterday in London, the doors opened at ‘New Scientist Live’, a four-day ‘festival of ideas and discovery’. The event features a line-up jam packed with big names such as astronaut Tim Peake, naturalist Chris Packham and author Margaret Atwood. Unfortunately, they have been joined by some equally well-known but less welcome names in the role of corporate sponsors: Shell and BAE systems.
So, as festivalgoers arrived, members of activist groups Campaign Against Climate Change and Art Not Oil made sure they were there to greet them – pointing out the destructive impacts of these unethical companies and the irony of partnering with Shell, a company that has previously attempted to undermine climate science.
Much like the controversy around BP’s sponsorship of museums and galleries, science institutions are increasing coming under pressure over the ethics of their fundraising and the legitimacy that corporate sponsors stand to gain by associating themselves with the well-respected brands of scientific organisations.
Last year, the Science Museum faced criticism over its decision to open a new interactive children’s gallery with the Norwegian company Statoil – which is actively trying to drill for oil in the Arctic – as the title sponsor. It has also come under fire for its ties to Shell and BP in the past.
“New Scientist Live is the latest example of a UK science festival aimed at young people taking sponsorship from arms and fossil fuel corporations,” Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, told me. “These businesses use such funding to help them deflect criticism of activities which contribute to major human rights and environmental problems.”
And this is why we were there as the festival opened, making the argument that the New Scientist should not allow corporations that wilfully damage the environment and impact communities across the globe to plaster their logos all over its reputable science event.
Protest “Not Allowed”
On Thursday morning, as New Scientist Live prepared to open, we began handing out our own “subvertised” flyers. The design was carefully adapted from the New Scientist’s own materials but instead asked “the big questions” about the ethics of the event’s sponsors.
Powerful images illustrated the impacts of Shell and BAE Systems and began prompting an important debate.
— Art Not Oil (@ArtNotOil)
After a lot of interest and support form those queuing inside the ExCel exhibition centre, security abruptly escorted us outside, informing us that protest was “not allowed” inside the building.
Later, two security guards followed one member of our group on a visit to the toilets, before they were then told that they had been banned from re-entering the building for the remainder of the day.
The New Scientist should not be complicit in helping these destructive companies clean up their tarnished brands and must stop aiding them to keep their impacts on people and the environment out of sight.
Main image credit: Kamyar Adl via Flickr CC-BY 2.0
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