18 June: Extinction Rebellion meet with Natural History Museum ahead of action

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  • At 4pm today, Tuesday 18 June, Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, will meet with Extinction Rebellion to discuss the group’s call on the museum to ‘follow where the science leads’ and sever all ties with the fossil fuel industry
  • The meeting comes as cultural institutions feel increased pressure to abandon connections with fossil fuel corporations, with many high profile figures speaking out
  • On Thursday 20 June, at 4.45pm hundreds of supporters will join Extinction Rebellion as they protest the Natural History Museum’s decision to host the annual awards dinner for the Petroleum Group of the Geological Society
  • Actions on the evening will include an alternative family-friendly dinner, dancing, a samba band, and acts of civil disobedience including swarming on the roads adjacent to the Museum
  • Chris Packham lent the group his support saying: ‘like all of us [the Natural History Museum] needs to urgently recognise the need for change. We need such institutions on side’

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of London’s Natural History Museum will today, 18 June, meet with members of Extinction Rebellion. The meeting comes in response to the group’s planned action at the Museum on 20 June in protest at the decision to host the Petroleum Group annual awards dinner.

Members of Extinction Rebellion who will attend the meeting are:

  • Geraint Northwood, PhD Geologist;
  • Bridget McKenzie, Extinction Rebellion, Culture Declares Emergency, and founder of Climate Museum UK;
  • Robin Ellis-Cockroft, XR Youth, MA in renewable energy;
  • Elsie Luna (10), XR Youth

In a letter to Sir Michael, the group called on the Museum “to follow where the science leads right now for our planet’s future” saying: “real change begins with telling the truth and taking action”.

Extinction Rebellion will use the meeting to raise three demands of the Natural History Museum:

  1. to cancel the Petroleum Group dinner
  2. to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency, and
  3. to cut any and all ties with the fossil fuel industry.

Environmentalist Chris Packham has lent his support to the group, saying:

“The Natural History Museum is a repository of wonders. It celebrates life in all its diversity and has a great reputation across the world. But it, like all of us, needs to urgently recognise the need for change. Until they demonstrate meaningful moves to renewable energy production, associations with petroleum companies are no longer tenable or tolerable. I am surprised and disappointed that the NHM haven’t preempted this, but I sincerely hope they respond rapidly to rectify their position. We need such institutions on side”.

On Thursday June 20, Extinction Rebellion will be organising a range of creative and non-violent actions at the Museum in protest at the decision to host the Petroleum Group annual dinner under its iconic skeleton of a blue whale, which goes by the nickname of Hope.

As an alternative to the Petroleum Group dinner, at 4.45pm Extinction Rebellion will hold their own family-friendly dinner of Hope outside the museum, with a focus on community, creativity and the renewable energy future our children need.

This will be the first in a series of visual and dramatic actions on the evening, including dancing, a samba band, and acts of civil disobedience like swarming (temporary, seven-minute roadblocks) on the roads adjacent to the museum, and more. Hundreds of supporters are expected to join the action with nearly 2,000 people having registered their interest on Facebook. [1]

Sir Michael Dixon, the NHM Director, has himself stated that Hope was installed in the museum to: “make a statement of intent about the relationship between humans and the natural world. Using our scientific resources, we want to challenge people to think about the future of the natural world, at a time when it faces threats that have never been greater.” [2]

The dinner will take place in Hintze Hall, the NHM’s spectacular main space, so named after Michael Hintze, the hedge fund manager and major funder of Lord Lawson’s climate change denying think tank The Global Warming Policy Foundation. [3]

Ben Gaskell, scientist and member of Extinction Rebellion, commented: “There is a chilling irony in the Natural History Museum, a renowned centre of scientific research, hosting a celebratory dinner for fossil fuel profiteers in a venue funded by a science denier.”

Tom Hardy, teacher and member of Extinction Rebellion said:It seems that the Natural History Museum is now in the business of making Nature History.

The fossil fuel industry is one of the greatest contributors to climate breakdown and habitat loss, which combined are leading to the destruction of our natural world [4] – the very world this cherished public institution is responsible for studying.

The UK faces imminent risk of food shortage due to global warming. If we are to have even the slightest chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees and averting the catastrophic societal collapse, food shortages and security risks that lie just over the precipice [5], we must keep 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground [6]. The further oil exploration supported by the Petroleum Group is blatantly unconscionable.

Visitors to the museum are in agreement with Extinction Rebellion’s position that hosting the Petroleum Group Awards dinner is inconsistent with the Natural History Museum’s stated aim to  “to inspire better care of our planet”. A survey of visitors to the museum carried out by Extinction Rebellion found that, of 248 visitors surveyed, 97% said they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about climate change and current species extinction. 70% said they ‘strongly disagree’ or ‘disagree’ with the museum hosting the “Award Dinner of the Petroleum Group”.

One visitor said: “I believe that hosting this kind of event is not in line with the purpose of the museum. Attention should be focused on climate change and dangers related to it”

Another commented: “They’ve sold out to profit over people+planet”

One visitor urged the museum to “Bring your events in line with your ethos & message”

Quotes

Juliana Muniz Westcott from Extinction Rebellion Families said: “The Natural History Museum must be a pioneer in taking positive action in the midst of our climate and ecological emergency. The entire institution should be oriented towards raising the alarm and protecting the natural world, not working with those who seek to destroy it.”

James Westcott from Extinction Rebellion asked: “Would a cancer hospital take money from the tobacco industry? Then why is the Natural History Museum hosting the fossil fuel industry?”

Extinction Rebellion’s letter to Sir Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum

Dear Sir Michael Dixon

cc. Neil Greenwood, Ian Owens, Fiona McWilliams, Clare Matterson CBE

On Thursday 20 June, the Petroleum Group of the Geological Society is scheduled to host its annual awards dinner underneath the blue whale in the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall, surrounded by fossils and relics of extinct species.

It would be difficult to invent a scene in fiction or film with more grotesque irony. The fossil fuel industry is contributing the most to climate breakdown, and massively to habitat loss, which combined are destroying our natural world — the world your museum is responsible for studying. Less than one fifth of known fossil fuel reserves can be burned if we’re to stay within 1.5 degrees of warming — an increase which would already be catastrophic — so the further exploration supported by the Petroleum Group is blatantly unconscionable.

Instead of selling the aura, prestige, and implied endorsement of the Natural History Museum to the science buttressing the fossil fuel industry, your cherished public institution must be a pioneer in taking bold, positive action in the midst of our climate and ecological emergency.

Extinction Rebellion is calling on the Natural History Museum to cancel the Petroleum Group dinner, declare a climate and ecological emergency, and cut any and all financial ties with the fossil fuel industry.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in the coming days to discuss these moral imperatives.

Meanwhile, we are planning an alternative to the fossil fuel dinner, outside the NHM. It will be a celebration of the future our children need.

Hosting the Petroleum Group at the NHM violates multiple sections of your own Environmental Policy and Ethics Policy, notably: “We are committed to protecting the environment and seek to continually improve the environmental performance of our activities by reducing the environmental impacts of all areas of our operation.” (See below for a full list of NHM commitments violated.)

Your staff is composed of scientists and your museum is based on scientific principles. We ask you to follow where the science leads right now for our planet’s future. Real change begins with telling the truth and taking action. What might seem impossible to you today will tomorrow look like the very least you could have done. Please don’t let future generations look back with contempt on the Natural History Museum’s complicity with the fossil fuel industry and its failure to act on climate breakdown.

Because of its role in communicating the wonders of the natural world — many of them already lost — to the public, the Natural History Museum has a unique ability and responsibility to take a lead on the climate and ecological emergency. The whole institution must now be oriented around making sure nature itself does not become history.

We ask that you show that leadership.

With love and rage,

Extinction Rebellion

Notes

[1] https://www.facebook.com/events/843489362677427/

[2] https://www.ft.com/content/b5d17b84-5b89-11e7-b553-e2df1b0c3220

[3] https://www.desmog.co.uk/michael-hintze

[4] Ekwurzel et al, “The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers,” Climatic Change, October 2017
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-017-1978-0

[5] “The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond,” Carbon Brief, 2018

https://interactive.carbonbrief.org/impacts-climate-change-one-point-five-degrees-two-degrees/

[6] Duncan Clark, “How much of the world’s fossil fuel can we burn?” Guardian, 25 March, 2015

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/keep-it-in-the-ground-blog/2015/mar/25/what-numbers-tell-about-how-much-fossil-fuel-reserves-cant-burn

Notes to Editors: Facts and Figures

  • Petroleum and gas account for more than half the global carbon emissions from fuel combustion
  • Alongside coal, polluting fuels in urban areas are responsible for ambient pollution killing globally 4.2 million people every year
  • Oil spills during drilling and transport have devastating effect on animals, their ecosystems and human health
  • In 2015, the world’s leading science journal, Nature, published an alarming paper telling us that a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet a target global warming of 2°C above the pre-industrial level
  • Since then, we have been warned that in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of going beyond 1.5°C, oil and gas production needs to fall by about 20% by 2030 and by about 55% by 2050
  • Despite this warning, the oil and gas industry is planning to spend $4.9 trillion over the next ten years on exploration and extraction in new fields
  • In the meantime, a recent report12 estimates that the major oil companies have spent a total of $1billion in the three years following the Paris agreement on lobbying governments and on opposing legislation addressing the ecological and climate crisis

About Extinction Rebellion:

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

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