Climate

Protesters Urge The Smithsonian Institution To Cut Ties With Climate Denier David Koch

CREDIT: Natasha Geiling

Protesters in Washington, D.C. gathered outside of the National Museum of Natural History on Monday, urging the Smithsonian Institution to cut ties with noted climate denier David Koch, who sits on the museum’s board.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving this train to the end of the Earth,” Beka Economopoulos, director of the mobile museum bus The Natural History Museum, told the crowd of protesters. “We need science museums to take a stand.”

The Smithsonian has come under fire for its association with the Koch brothers and its Hall of Human Origins exhibit, funded by a $15 million grant from David Koch. The exhibit centers on a relatively new hypothesis, based largely in speculation, that extreme climate change in the past made humans incredibly adaptable. It also claims that humans will continue to adapt to future extreme climate change, illustrating this idea with an interactive video that lets visitors create future humans that have adapted to warmer temperatures simply by growing taller or adding more sweat glands.

In March, three dozen scientists sent the Smithsonian an open letter urging the Institution to end their association with the Koch brothers or anyone else related to fossil fuels.

“This is our national museum,” Lise Van Susteren, co-founder of the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and one of the event’s organizers, told ThinkProgress. “[The Hall of Human Origins] is such an insult to thinking people everywhere. It is such a disgrace and a shame that the Board of Regents has not done something to take this down.”

Protesters gather outside of the Smithsonian Castle.

Protesters gather outside of the Smithsonian Castle.

CREDIT: Natasha Geiling

The protest began outside of the Smithsonian Castle, where a group of more than 50 protesters presented Smithsonian officials with 427,000 signatures petitioning the Institution to remove David Koch from its board. The petition also called for the firing of Dr. Willie Soon, a researcher with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory who made headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that he received at least $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry without disclosing it. That was widely seen as a potential conflict of interest, since Soon has long argued that the sun impacts temperatures to a greater degree than fossil fuels.

Protesters deliver signatures to Smithsonian staff.

Protesters deliver signatures to Smithsonian staff.

CREDIT: Natasha Geiling

The protesters then marched to the front of the Museum of Natural History, where the The Natural History Museum’s mobile bus provided a platform for speeches from Economopoulos, Climate Progress’ own Joe Romm, and president of the Hip Hop Caucus Reverend Lennox Yearwood.

Protesters march from the Smithsonian Castle to the Museum of Natural History.

Protesters march from the Smithsonian Castle to the Museum of Natural History.

CREDIT: Natasha Geiling

Michael Becker, who attended the protest, told ThinkProgress that he was “shocked” to learn of a Koch-funded exhibit in the Smithsonian.

“I’m outraged,” he said. “I understand that money speaks, but it shouldn’t influence science. You have to draw the line there.”

John Gibbons, a spokesman for the Smithsonian Institution, told ThinkProgress that “our donors and supporters have absolutely no influence on the presentation or content of our exhibitions.” The Institution’s official stance on climate change, released in a statement in October, is that climate change is real and occurring due to human activity.

UPDATE JUN 15, 2015 5:13 PM

This post has been updated with a statement from a Smithsonian Institution spokesperson.

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