Shell contaminates Boerhaave Museum

Dear Messieurs Haarhuis and Rinnooy Kan, 

You have a beautiful museum. The Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is fascinating, educational, beautiful and exciting. We would have liked to have brought you better news, but after thorough research we have to conclude: your museum has contracted a virus. Your museum has been infected by Shell.

The symptoms are obvious:

  • Shell is the main sponsor of your museum.
  • A prominent part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to Shell
  • In your exhibition you put the President-directeur of Shell Netherlands on the same pedestal as Dutch Nobel Laureates
  • Ex-president-directeur of Shell and public climate change denier Rein Willems sits on your Supervisory Board.

How can a science museum appoint a trustee who openly airs his doubts about the fact that fossil fuels cause climate change? Or perhaps the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave stands behind the following statement by Rein Willems:

“Climate change has nothing to do with CO2, or scarcely anything. In fact, if you look now at the relationship between CO2 and temperature rise, it’s the other way around”. 

This is old school climate change denial from Rein Willems. This is what has been holding back climate policy for three decades, this is the virus that is causing global warming to get out of hand. 

Shell has a history of deception. In the 1990s, Shell paid an influential man to sow doubts about climate science. And in 2020 the deception continues. Shell has even been taken to court in Washington DC for its misleading advertising. Shell’s global campaign ‘Make the Future’ is used as evidence in this case. Shell’s child-marketing festival “Generation Discover”, of which Boerhaave is a well-known and regular partner, is a part of ‘Make the Future’. 

Sponsoring of museums is a well-known tactic for oil multinationals. This way, major polluters like Shell connect themselves with the good side of a country’s cultural heritage to sanitise their reputation and pull the wool over people’s eyes regarding the failures of their fossil business model.

The Boerhaave national museum goes a step further than other fossil-fuel-financed museums, proudly presenting Shell as part of its permanent exhibition. Shell’s President-Directeur is put on the same pedestal as Nobel Prize winners. You also mention the ‘primeval oil field’ on Sumatra, but neglect to tell the whole story about Shell’s role in the colonial past of the Netherlands.

One of the most important lessons of the Coronavirus pandemic was that the one and a half metre distance was not only intended to protect one’s own health, but more so that of vulnerable people and care personnel. In the same way, you are not only responsible for your own museum, but also for the message your museum conveys to society and your (young) visitors. 

As long as the Boerhaave Museum is contaminated with Shell, thereby legitimising Shell’s fossil business model, you are helping exacerbate climate change, disrupt society and exploit people, societies and ecosystems (i.e. ecocide). 

Fortunately, infection by Shell is not permanent. Decontamination is easy; many museums in the Netherlands and in other countries have trodden this path. The Van Gogh Museum, the Mauritshuis and the Museon rid themselves of the parasite. They are no longer host to a fossil multinational that uses our common cultural heritage to whitewash its own. 

To prevent further contamination, we also ask the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave to sever its ties with Shell. That means:

  • Accepting no more money from Shell
  • No (ex-)Shell people on the museum’s Supervisory Board
  • Stopping work with Shell in children’s activities, such as the “Generation Discover” child-marketing festival
  • Removing Shell from the permanent exhibition, or explicitly mentioning Shell’s role in causing climate change, promoting climate change denial, ecocide and human rights violations

We are counting on you to take these measures quickly, so that you will be virus-free this summer. We look forward to a visit to your beautiful – disinfected – museum! 

Yours sincerely,

Femke Sleegers, Fossielvrij Onderwijs & Reclame Fossielvrij

Linda Knoester, Extinction Rebellion Leiden

Erik Christiansson, Fridays for Future Nederland

Hanneke van Houten, Code Rood

Frank van Schaik, Teachers for Climate

Liset Meddens, Fossielvrij NL

Mirjam Vossepoel, Jongeren Milieu Actief

Mirjam van der Steur, Extinction Rebellion Jong

Vatan Hüzeir, Rotterdams Klimaat Initiatief

Harriet Bergman, promovenda universiteit Antwerpen

Thirza van ‘t Rood, Fridays for Future Leiden

Katy Olivia Tergauw, Stop Ecocide!

Marjolein Moeijes, Extinction Rebellion Rotterdam

Willemijn Plomp, Earth Strike Leiden

Fossil Free Culture NL