New scientist festival shuns fossil fuel sponsorship after campaign pressure

The festival’s shift from BP and Shell partnerships comes as a growing number of cultural institutions have cut ties with oil and gas companies.

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Image Credit: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Greenpeace

The New Scientist magazine has quietly dropped fossil fuel sponsorship of its science festival amid mounting pressure from climate campaigners.

The 2019 event had previously listed BP as a “zone sponsor” along with BAE Systems, while Shell sponsored the event’s “Earth Zone” in 2018. However, the New Scientist Live (NSL)  festival, which runs in Manchester this weekend, has no fossil fuel sponsors or exhibitors listed on its website.

Campaigners say this is a significant policy shift. An online NSL event in September removed BP as a sponsor after several scientists pulled out over the oil giant’s involvement, according to the Culture Unstained, a group campaigning to end fossil fuel sponsorship of culture. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Emma Garnett, a sustainability research fellow at the University of Cambridge who pulled out of the New Scientist Live event in September in protest at its BP sponsorship, welcomed the move.

“It is vital organisations refuse fossil fuel sponsorship because these companies are polluting our discussions as well as our planet,” she told DeSmog. 

“I think the evidence is incredibly clear: how far we succeed in limiting climate change depends on dismantling fossil fuel industry influence in our politics and culture.”

‘Powerful Message’

The New Scientist Live did not respond when asked if it would permanently be cutting ties with fossil fuel sponsors.

However, the shift comes as Arts institutions react to mounting public pressure to clean up their image. In February, BP was dropped as a sponsor by the National Portrait Gallery after a 30-year partnership on its Portrait Award, and by the Scottish Ballet.

 The Science Museum is facing calls to follow suit over coal mining conglomerate Gautum Adani’s funding of a new gallery on the “energy revolution”. 

BP has faced criticism over its huge profits being boosted by rising energy prices and its £10.6 billion ($14 billion) stake in Russia’s state oil company Rosneft, which it has offloaded since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. 

Genevieve Dawson of Culture Unstained said: “New Scientist Live have listened to the profound concerns of scientists and other partners, and done the right thing. 

“It’s fantastic that young people excited and inspired by science will no longer have to be confronted by the logos of the very companies that are threatening their futures in order to enjoy this event. This should send a powerful message to the Science Museum that fossil fuel sponsors have no place in science education.” 

Dr Stuart Parkinson, executive director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, said: “It’s very positive to see that New Scientist Live has responded to widespread concern about the ethical records of the fossil fuel and arms industries by ending its sponsorship deals with BP and BAE Systems. 

“Corporations whose core business fuels dangerous climate change or human rights violations are not good bedfellows for science education events.”

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