The Power Of Activism: 552K Petition Signatures Later David Koch Leaves Museum Board

David Koch

David Koch has left New York’s American Museum of Natural History Board in the wake of mounting pressure.

Conservative billionaire David H. Koch has resigned from the board of the American Museum of Natural History in New York after having served for 23 years.

As The New York Times reports, Koch “has donated some $23 million to the museum and his name adorns its dinosaur wing,” however, “businesses in energy and other industries have drawn criticism from climate scientists and environmental groups.”

Last March, dozens of climate scientists and environmental groups submitted a letter to museums, such as the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History, calling for them to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies like the Koch brothers, asserting their influence and money is tainted by their efforts to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

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

As The New York Times reported in an earlier article, “The letter does not mention specific companies, but it does name David H. Koch, who sits on the boards of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and has given tens of millions of dollars to those institutions.”

The letter is a project of The Natural History Museum, a mobile museum that draws attention to “social and political forces that shape nature yet are left out of traditional natural history museums,” said its co-founder and director, Beka Economopoulos.

This past Fall, The Natural History Museum teamed up with environmental groups including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club to create a petition calling on top science and natural history museums to divest from fossil fuels. The Natural History Museum recruited about 20 NGOs to promote the petition, gathering over 552,000 signatures to date.

Cristyne Nicholas, a spokeswoman for Koch, said that the letter and petition had nothing to do with Mr. Koch’s departure. “He was not swayed by that at all and it absolutely did not factor into his decision.”

However, as Beka Economopoulos stated to Liberals Unite in an email, “While the official reason Koch’s spokesperson offered was his desire to prioritize other commitments, it is undeniable that his board position was the cause of great controversy over the last year.”

Economopoulos also told Liberals Unite that: “Since the release of the scientist letter, at least 6 museums have responded by either divesting from fossil fuels, dropping fossil fuel sponsors, or implementing gifts policies that preclude them from taking fossil fuel industry funding.”

  • California Academy of Sciences (divest + gifts policy)
  • Australian Academy of Sciences (divest)
  • London Science Museum (drop Shell Oil sponsorship deal)
  • Field Museum in Chicago (divest)
  • Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Pittsburgh (divest + gifts policy)

Economopoulos concluded her email, stating:

We are thrilled that David Koch, a climate denier and top funder of climate science disinformation campaigns (to the tune of $79 million) is no longer in a leadership position at a venerable science museum like the American Museum of Natural History. With this conflict of interest removed, we hope that the AMNH will consider our invitation to demonstrate its leadership by divesting financial holdings from fossil fuels.

While Koch is no longer on the Board of Trustees at the American Museum of Natural History, he is still an Advisory Board member of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

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