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New Divestment Campaign Calls on Natural History Museums to Wake Up on Climate


New Divestment Campaign Calls on Natural History Museums to Wake Up on Climate

Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

If museums are meant to preserve natural history, why do they invest in companies whose activities are making nature history?

So asks a new campaign launched Friday, which singles out five influential U.S. science and natural history institutions, calling on them to demonstrate their leadership by divesting from fossil fuels and disassociating with climate deniers.

"In the face of climate catastrophe, there is no more neutral ground."
—Jenny Marienau, 350.org


The Museum of Natural History in New York has a Koch wing.


Natural history museums need to preserve many existing animals because they’re soon going to be natural history.


The “culture” of the “museum” is profoundly in need of deconstruction. It is the institutional hierarchic equivalent of straight jacket made religio-temporal aesthetic.


This is a tough topic. As a nonprofit fundraiser who has worked with large museums, I know that the staff and members would be very supportive or divestment, but there comes an issue with fundraising that the boards usually don’t want to get entangled with. Most of the ‘big donors’ to nonprofits are the very same corporations/owners that are part of the problem. See, they’re the ones with the money.

If public museums were publicly funded 100% (most get some public money), or fundraising staff concentrated on small gifts from many more people, then it would put less stress on the problem. It is tough though to divest your staff 401k while you major contributors and board members are on those same companies.

Once you start down that path, things can escalate out of control, then you have no funding whatsoever. Even slowly increasing focus on (grassroots-style) donations can set off a PR nightmare, not to mention most fundraising departments are not accustomed to it.

I don’t have an answer, but I am searching for one. I do know that ultimatums are not going to work here the same way other divestments are working. To the movement: is there a way to list who we’re divesting of and who we get funding from?


I went to museum once. I am not a museum person but someone wanted me to go to natural history museum in D.C. with them. But they never showed up. But I went in anyway. I saw the beginnings of life, the first single-celled organisms, fish, amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, and up the ladder of evolution up and up until we finally get near the supposed pinnacle of evolution man. But the museum just showed some brown people in primitive huts. I was really hoping I would see people like me, living in suburbs, driving around in machines called automobiles. But the museum chose to not go there. Apparently we aren’t part of nature. We are outside of it looking down at it. Nature is just these things that we have studied and understood fully and now we can catalog it and put it in museums for us smarty-pants humans to walk around and gawk at. But you know, I really think it would be cool if they had included in the displays replicas of the very humans who were coming to visit the museum. Show them in their natural settings. Show them in the wooden and steel structures they inhabit. Maybe show them as a species that is doing what a lot of species do, which is called overshoot – where you just have too many members of the species living in a confined area for the resources to continue to sustain them, leading inevitably to a crash. But I guess not the public might not want to see that.