POLITICS

Scientists Call On Smithsonian And Other Museums To Reject Fossil Fuel Funding

03/24/2015 05:34 pm ET | Updated Mar 25, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- A group of prominent scientists is lobbying science museums in the United States to stop accepting funding from fossil fuel interests.

"As members of the scientific community we devote our lives to understanding the world, and sharing this understanding with the public," wrote the group of 39 scientists in an open letter to all museums of science and natural history. "We are deeply concerned by the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science."

The list of notable signers includes James Hansen, a climatologist and the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist in the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Eric Chivian, founder and director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

The letter specifically highlights the fact that David Koch, the billionaire funder of both conservative and philanthropic interests, is a sponsor and trustee for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The museum's Hall of Human Origins also bears his name thanks to his $15 million donation. His donations to the museum reportedly total at least $35 million.

Koch is also a major sponsor of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, donating $20 million to the Dinosaur wing, which is named after him.

"David Koch's oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States," the scientists wrote. They point out that Koch also funds a large network of conservative groups that deny that climate change is real and caused by human activity, such as Americans for Prosperity.

"When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions in museums of science and natural history, they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge," the scientists argue. "This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost."

The letter was organized by The Natural History Museum, a new museum (not to be confused with the similarly named Smithsonian museum) that offers exhibitions, workshops and programming that it says seeks "to affirm the truth of science."

"It was our sense that natural history museums, which include anthropological explorations of human society and culture within their programming, are limited in what they feel they can and can't say about a seemingly controversial issue like climate change," said Beka Economopoulos, the museum's co-founder. "Anthropology is a discipline that considers politics and culture, yet the anthropological presentation on climate change in museums seems narrow."

UPDATE: March 25, 10:18 a.m. -- The Smithsonian has posted a response to the campaign on its website.

"First, the Smithsonian policy is clear: Donors and supporters have no influence on the content or presentation of Smithsonian exhibitions, regardless of their private interests," wrote the institution. "Second, the Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming."

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