In October 2021, the London Science Museum announced a sponsorship deal with part of the Adani Group that met with immediate outrage from many in the scientific and environmental fields. Adani was to fund a ‘green energy gallery’ (to open in 2023), aimed at ‘educating the public about the huge opportunities and challenges we face as the era of fossil fuels comes to an end’.
Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘We’re hugely grateful to Adani Green Energy for the significant financial support they are providing for this gallery.’
Reacting to what they termed ‘greenwashing’ of Adani’s coal operations, citizen groups mounted protests outside the museum’s entrance. Two trustees resigned. The museum went on the defensive, arguing that it was merely attempting to ‘engage, debate and challenge’ society to make the global economy less reliant on carbon. It claimed that sponsorship achieves public good.
When it comes to encouraging sponsorship from fossil-fuel companies, the London Science Museum has form. In October, a professor of climate science at a British university stood down from the museum’s advisory board in protest at the museum’s willingness to accept sponsorship from the oil and gas industry. Shell had sponsored an exhibition at the museum with the title 'Our Future Planet'.
In response to the fracas over the collaboration with Adani, an advisor to the museum, Mr Bob Ward, accused critics of being ‘confused’ because Adani Green Energy Limited (AGEL) is a different company from Adani Mining Limited. He acknowledged that both companies are part of the same group and went on to list the manufacture of solar panels, the building of roads and railways, and the operation of sewage treatment plants as other endeavours in which the Adani Group is engaged.
It's hard to imagine a more disingenuous argument. Ward made no mention of the Adani Group’s extensive and growing investments in the coal industry in India, which includes two existing coal mines and 12 proposed new ones; six existing coal power stations, proposed expansions to three of them, and three proposed new ones; and at least six ports and other infrastructure for the transport of coal, as well as several proposals for expansion.
This is before you consider the Adani Group’s coal mine in Indonesia. Mr Ward did mention Adani’s Carmichael coal project in Queensland, but in a dismissive fashion, despite the widespread fears that the infrastructure associated with this mine will open up a vast, previously untapped deposit of coal in Queensland to other exploiters. The dissent of local indigenous representatives also went unmentioned.
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Mr Ward appears to have turned a blind eye to the impacts of coal-based developments on the indigenous (Adivasi) inhabitants of the rural hinterland of India. Documented effects include:
- Serious impacts on human health from coal dust, coal fumes and other forms of pollution arising from the storage and transport of coal;
- Dispossession and displacement of people from ancestral lands taken over for coal mines and coal-power stations with inadequate compensation for those affected;
- Loss of culture and a unique way of life.
Similarly, the spirited efforts by the Adivasi to stand up for a threatened way of life appear to have been ignored by the museum’s apologists. The crackdown by various authorities in India, including the central government of Narendra Modi, on criticism, protest and even straightforward reporting of the Adani Group’s activities also appears to be a non-issue on the part of museum spokespeople who say they welcome public debate. Impacts of Adani’s agenda on the natural environment, including on elephants, seemed to be completely ignored by an institution whose scientific interests should extend to the natural world.
Mr Ward went so far as to claim that protests against the museum’s involvement with Adani could jeopardise investment in renewable energy! Similarly patronising arguments were mounted by Sir Ian Blatchford, director and chief executive of the Science Museum Group.
Such responses did not persuade the two trustees to the museum who stepped down from their roles to express their disapproval of the Adani sponsorship.
‘The Science Museum is giving the false impression that scientists believe the current efforts of fossil fuel companies are sufficient to avoid disaster,’ Hannah Fry, a professor of mathematics, was quoted as saying.
‘I worry about how easily distracted we are by investment in renewable energy and carbon capture storage, without realising that, given increased global energy demand, it means nothing unless it provokes a marked reduction in burning fossil fuels,’ she went on to say.
The science author and historian Sarah Dry also withdrew as a trustee of the Science Museum Group in March after she was asked to support the government’s position on contested heritage. Dry tweeted: ‘When I was still a Science Museum trustee, I argued against taking £ from Adani for a new energy gallery. I was not listened to. Now that the announcement is public, many others are making the same case. It takes strength to admit you've made a mistake. Will [Science Museum Group director] Ian Blatchford?’