A photo from the protest. COURTESY: Gareth Morris/Extinction Rebellion.

On Wednesday, a group of scientists from Extinction Rebellion (ER) staged a non-violent protest at the Science Museum in London, UK, locking themselves to a mechanical structure inside the building. The protest coincided with the opening day of the Our Future Planet exhibit, a climate change initiative that lists oil giant Shell as a major sponsor. 

The announcement of the partnership drew swift backlash, with some accusing the museum of helping to “greenwash” the company’s image.

“The Science Museum is doing important work in communicating the climate and ecological crises, but this is undermined by their partnership with Shell, a company whose activities have already had a devastating impact on our climate, ecosystems, and communities,” Dr. Abi Perrin, a microbiologist, told ER.

“Rather than cleaning up their mess, they continue to pour the vast majority of their extensive resources into fossil fuels, which the science is clear will have disastrous consequences.”

Museum officials have defended the collaboration, arguing oil companies are in a unique position to combat climate change.

“The major energy companies have the capital, geography, people, and logistics to be major players in finding solutions to the urgent global challenge of climate change and we are among the many organizations that regard a blanket approach of severing ties as being unproductive,” Sir Ian Blatchford, director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group, said in a November blog post.

Scientists locked inside the Science Museum on 05.19.2021. Protestors held signs explaining their issues with the Shell/Science Museum partnership. COURTESY: Gareth Morris/Extinction Rebellion.

“I am skeptical about the argument that such sponsorships are greenwashing,” Blatchford continued.

“It would be much easier for companies to seek a quiet life by not sponsoring high profile institutions, because working with us exposes them to exceptional scrutiny. Ultimately our visitors can – and do – make their own minds up about our approach.”


Scientists used bicycle cables and locks to fasten themselves inside but left the exhibit undamaged and acted within safety regulations, ER says.

Scientists held an alternative exhibit outside, featuring street performers and climate change exhibits. Representatives of the Ogoni people, a Nigerian Indigenous community living on land Shell has been damaging since the 1950s, were also on-site and engaging with visitors.

In a statement on the ER website, Peter Knapp, an Air Quality researcher who locked himself inside the museum, said he began studying air quality when he discovered that 8 million worldwide people die annually from breathing in coal, petrol, and diesel.

“I love the Science Museum. Science is our ally in averting the worst effects of the climate and ecological emergency, but this dirty deal with Shell is an insult to science,” Knapp said.

“The National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the Southbank Centre, and the Tate galleries have all cut ties with oil companies, yet the Science Museum trails behind. If anyone should stand up against Shell and its sickening anti-science propaganda, it should be the Science Museum. I feel betrayed.” 

ER held alternative climate change exhibits outside the museum. Courtesy: Jessica Townsend/Extinction Rebellion.

Speaking with Deadline News, a Science Museum rep confirmed the peaceful protest took place without incident.

“[It] was supervised by museum staff to ensure visitors continued to have safe access to the inspiration of our museum and to the vaccination centre,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement provided to Deadline, Shell praised its “longstanding relationship” with the Science Museum.

“At Shell, our target is to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society,” Shell said.

“As Shell works with our customers to identify the best paths to decarbonization, we seek to avoid, reduce and only then mitigate any remaining emissions. Developing carbon capture and storage and using natural sinks are two of a range of ways of decarbonizing energy.”

At the time of this writing, a pledge to boycott the exhibition has garnered more than 4,200 signatures.