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Is the Science Museum’s Green Energy Gallery tainted by fossil fuel money?

by Alexander
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Is the Science Museum's Green Energy Gallery tainted by fossil fuel money?

IThe goal is to explore humanity’s past and future efforts to decarbonize the way we live. Historical artifacts mixed with interactive exhibits will show how environmentally friendly energy systems are shaped by imagination and innovation.

But the new gallery of the Science Museum, Energy revolution, the Adani Green Energy gallerywent wrong – with environmentalists.

Last week, they protested at the gallery’s private opening party and confronted guests with banners denouncing the London museum’s decision to accept sponsorship from Indian energy group Adani, organized through its renewable energy subsidiary, Adani Green Energy.

The company’s other projects – which include major investments in Australian coal mines – mean its sponsorship is tainted, protesters claim. “No museum or public institution should help such a toxic company strengthen its brand,” said Rhian Ashford of the Fossil Free Science Museum Coalition.

These claims are set to spark another major controversy over museum sponsorship – and how the industry is meeting the need to decarbonize our planet. Some support the protesters. Others are on the museum side.

“India is a large country and its electricity system is still largely dependent on coal,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. “It knows it needs to move away from burning fossil fuels and has built one of the world’s most ambitious solar power programs with Adani Green Energy, India’s largest renewable energy company, playing a key role.

Activists protest outside the Science Museum in 2021 against sponsorship of fossil fuel companies Photo: SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

“However, you can’t go from coal to solar overnight, so it’s ridiculous to campaign against the new gallery because fossil fuels are still being burned in India,” added Ward, an adviser involved in the planning. from the gallery. “These green protesters are trying to discourage people from visiting a gallery that clearly shows that climate change is the most important challenge facing humanity today. It’s crazy and counterproductive.

But Chris Garrard, a member of the Fossil Free Science Museum coalition, insisted the protest was justified. “The work of the gallery’s curators is truly important, but it has been constantly undermined by museum leaders who have chosen sponsors like Adani, despite the fact that the company continues to expand its mining and combustion activities coal.”

Garrard said the Science Museum had refused to listen to widespread protests from stakeholders. “This leaves us with no choice but to call for a boycott of the gallery,” he added.

Extinction Rebellion activists outside the Science Museum calling for an end to their collaboration with Adani in 2023. Photograph: Denise Laura Baker/Alamy

Ian Blatchford, the museum’s chief executive, said he and his colleagues recognized that “some campaigners have strong views on sponsorship and want to see a wholesale disengagement from entire sectors.” Our directors, however, disagree with this view and have made our approach clear, urging businesses, governments and individuals to do more to make the global economy less carbon intensive.

Professor Myles Allen, a climatologist from the University of Oxford, was more cautious. “In many ways, companies like Adani are doing much more than many Western companies to move away from fossil fuels and expand into renewable energy, so it’s a bit unfair to target them,” he said.

“The problem is that no one is required to reveal how they plan to prevent the products they sell from causing global warming. Diversifying into renewable energy isn’t relevant if you’re still selling fossil fuels – and promising to get rid of your fossil assets by 2049 doesn’t work either. Until companies tell us how they are going to fix fossil fuels, not just mix them, we won’t be able to tell which ones are on track to reach net zero. Maybe this new gallery will make that loud and clear – which would be great.

As for the gallery that sparked this controversy, its objective is simple. It was designed to demonstrate the technologies that will be needed if humanity is to halt global warming and halt its current drift toward a crisis that threatens to trigger droughts, melt ice caps, flood coastal cities, trigger massive migrations and lead to significant losses of biodiversity.

“This is a new permanent gallery,” said its curator, Oliver Carpenter. “In 10 years, its content will still need to be relevant. It has therefore been crucial to place renewable energy in a historical context for our planning.

A key example is provided by the display of an electric taxi built in 1897. It was manufactured by the Great Horseless Carriage Company and a fleet of over 70 passengers ferried around London over several years. Known as Bumble Bee cabins because of their bright yellow and black paint, each was powered by a lead-acid battery that was recharged after use in the company’s own coal-fired power plant.

Its designer, Walter Bersey, claimed that its cabins had “no odor, no noise, no heat, no vibration and no possible danger”, but they were finally decommissioned in 1899. Oddly enough, it took more than 100 years so that the electrical is put out of service. The taxi is making a comeback, with Transport for London reporting last year that more than half of the capital’s 14,700 cabs are now “zero emissions capable”.

“Things could have been very different if Henry Ford and the discovery of oil and gas in America had not happened together,” Carpenter added. “Those are the kinds of variables we want to highlight in the gallery.”

Other developments on the path to a low-carbon future include some of the machines that formed the world’s first public electricity grid, created by Thomas Edison, in London in 1882, as well as some of the remains of Zeta, a nuclear fusion experiment created in the late 1950s by British scientists. They believed, wrongly, that this would bring cheap, abundant, low-carbon energy to the world within a few years.

“We have had to learn many lessons about energy production over the decades and, as the gallery makes clear, we will have to learn many more,” Carpenter added.

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