I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that climate change is happening. It is a fact, verified by thousands of studies. There is consensus on this issue among climate scientists. There is no real controversy here, but that doesn’t mean that the political, manufactured controversy doesn’t make its way into institutions designed to proliferate the science of nature (aka natural history museums). Especially if you’re in Texas.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened its doors in 2012. According to the Dallas Morning News, this is a bit of what you’ll encounter:
Visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science can stand beside an enormous rotating drill bit, take a virtual ride down a fracking well and run their fingers along the smooth, dark surface of the Barnett Shale, the natural gas-rich rock that has fueled Texas’ energy boom.
What is conspicuously absent, however, is any but the most subtle reference to climate change.
It’s not like it wasn’t in the plans. The Perot Museum had a panel that was supposed to go up in the earth sciences hall. The 4 x 2.5 foot panel was supposed to have read:
“Volcanic eruptions and burning fossil fuels increase the amount of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. This warms the Earth and can cause sea levels to rise and climates to change. Humans have altered Earth’s climate by burning coal and other fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide.”
Fairly innocuous, right? Well, it was never installed. Steve Hinkley, vice president of programs at the Perot Museum, said the panel just kind of got lost. Moreover, he said he didn’t learn about it until a reporter started asking questions.
Sorry, but I’m a little suspicious that a museum installation just got passed over. It’s not like a museum is something that can just be whipped together. Hinkley said that, apparently, the panel wasn’t correctly designed for the space, so that may have also contributed to it being left out. But seriously? It’s been 2 years. Climate change is not the geology hall’s main focus, but with nary a mention of climate change anywhere else in the museum and a giant shrine to the oil and gas industry, you’ll forgive me if I’m a little skeptical.
In addition, the geology hall is named for The Rees-Jones Foundation. For the uninitiated, this foundation was started by Chief Oil & Gas founder Trevor Rees-Jones and his wife. That foundation has given $25 million dollars to the museum, and ExxonMobil has given more than one million dollars.
Museum officials, of course, have said that no one has asked them to remove any mention of climate change from the museum. However, that’s a lot of money on the line. The museum itself cost $185 million, so $25 million is nothing to sneeze at. I actually believe that no one asked them to remove the climate change panel. But money like that tends to speak for itself.
Leaving out reference to climate change, the biggest challenge of our time, is admittedly a bold move, but not in a good way. President Obama has had just about enough of climate change denial and has put his money where his mouth is. A report out earlier this year from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it clear that things are worse than predicted in 2007 and no one is immune. Not only that, but a new paper argues that we may be underestimating the economic impact of climate change over the next 200 years.
The longer we sit on our hands, the harder climate change is going to be to mitigate. If we keep this information away from actual real people — like by effectively erasing it from a museum — then we operate and vote without complete knowledge. Study after study shows that doing so will lead to disaster.
In The Perot Museum’s defense, they have ordered a temporary climate change panel until a permanent one can be made. It’s hard, though, to not feel betrayed. People trust museums to give them accurate information, complete to the best of their ability. In the face of a hostile political climate and multimillion dollar donors, let’s hope that tradition can continue.
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