Scientists to museums: Stop taking money from climate deniers!

An open letter to science institutions urges them to "cut all ties" with the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests

Published March 24, 2015 2:09PM (EDT)

David Koch                                  (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
David Koch (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

The fight to separate the science of climate change from industry and political interests has reached its next battleground: museums. A group of climate experts and other scientists is urging the nation's science and natural history museums to stop accepting money from fossil fuel companies and climate deniers.

Their open letter, which was signed by 36 scientists and delivered to more than 330 institutions, asks that the museums, as "trusted sources of scientific information," make the decision to "cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation."

It takes particular aim at David Koch, who, aside from heading up "one one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States" (Koch Industries), has, it claims, spent over $67 million since 1997 funding groups dedicated to undermining climate science.

"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," the letter argues, "they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge. This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost."

What sort of thing happens when a museum, for instance, takes $15 million from fossil fuel titan with a known history of spreading disinformation about climate change? Here's the New Yorker's report, from 2010, on the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:

At the main entrance, viewers are confronted with a giant graph charting the Earth’s temperature over the past ten million years, which notes that it is far cooler now than it was ten thousand years ago. Overhead, the text reads, “HUMANS EVOLVED IN RESPONSE TO A CHANGING WORLD.” The message, as amplified by the exhibit’s Web site, is that “key human adaptations evolved in response to environmental instability.” Only at the end of the exhibit, under the headline “OUR SURVIVAL CHALLENGE,” is it noted that levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than they have ever been, and that they are projected to increase dramatically in the next century. No cause is given for this development; no mention is made of any possible role played by fossil fuels. The exhibit makes it seem part of a natural continuum. The accompanying text says, “During the period in which humans evolved, Earth’s temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fluctuated together.” An interactive game in the exhibit suggests that humans will continue to adapt to climate change in the future. People may build “underground cities,” developing “short, compact bodies” or “curved spines,” so that “moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.”

It'd be difficult to establish whether Koch himself, or just the influence of his money, helped shape the exhibit (a spokesperson for the museum denied that was the case) -- but its treatment of man-made climate change can only be described as "science," at best.

Jumping on the bandwagon, a group of 15 non-profits launched a campaign of their own to get the Smithsonian, as well as the American Museum of Natural History, to boot David Koch from their boards of directors.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Anti-science Climate Change Denialism David Koch Fossil Fuel Industry Koch Brothers