Climate Denier David Koch Leaves New York’s Natural History Museum Board
by Connor Gibson
January 21, 2016
Museums are cutting ties with business leaders whose profit motives are at odds with independent science, and divesting from their fossil fuel holdings. This week, petrochemical billionaire David Koch left the American Museum of Natural History after serving as a trustee for 23 years.
An effort spearheaded by 148 scientists concerned about climate change’s impact on our lives has been answered with a victory: David Koch’s term as a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has come to an end.
Koch is best known for financing the political ambitions of his older brother, Charles Koch. Greenpeace has worked for years to expose how Charles and David Koch, and their private company Koch Industries, have sent tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny the science of climate change.
Last March, Greenpeace joined a coalition effort to cut ties between museums and donors who present a conflict of interest. The coalition was led by led The Natural History Museum, a non-profit launched in 2014 to uphold truth in our cultural institutions.
The museum’s founder, Beka Economopoulos (a former Greenpeace employee), explained in a Guardian op-ed why museums must maintain independence from people like David Koch, whose fossil fuel fortune is threatened by scientific progress.
In today’s announcement to supporters, The Natural History Museum contextualized the achievement:
In the wake of public pressure, conservative billionaire and oil mogul David H. Koch has resigned from the board of New York’s American Museum of Natural History after having served on it for 23 years.
His departure is a victory for all the scientists, climate activists, and museum professionals who have been calling for museums to break ties with Koch and other fossil fuel interests.
In the last few months, at least five science museums have stepped up to the plate, by 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 (divestment and gifts policy)
Australian Academy of Sciences (divestment)
London Science Museum (end of oil sponsorship deal)
Field Museum in Chicago (divestment)
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh (divestment and gifts policy)
The American Alliance of Museums’ Code of Ethics states that it is incumbent upon museums to do everything they can to “preserve the rich and diverse world we have inherited for posterity”, and to act not only legally, but also ethically. It used to be acceptable for tobacco companies to sponsor cultural institutions. That’s no longer the case. We believe it’s a matter of time before the same is true of fossil fuel companies.
Koch Wanted for Climate Crimes
Before scientists and non-profit advocates came together on the issue, Greenpeace activists took to the streets to highlight David Koch’s dirty influence at American museums.
Our “Climate Crime Unit” engaged the public outside of natural history museums in both Washington, D.C. and New York City, where Mr. Koch has served on museum boards. Greenpeace activists opened up “climate crime scenes” in front of both the D.C. and New York City natural history museums, educating passersby of Koch-funded junk science.
We eventually told David Koch right to his face, “you’re wanted for climate crimes,” handing him one of our wanted posters (which he hates) at an event put on by Americans for Prosperity, one of many climate denial organizations that was founded and remains controlled by the Koch brothers.
He didn’t answer our questions about a Koch-funded study that confirmed humans are causing an unnatural upward shift in global average temperatures.
More needs to be done, as Koch’s tainted mark on museum science is ongoing. Mr. Koch remains affiliated with the Smithsonian Natural History Museum as part of its advistory board. Mr. Koch’s “Hall of Human Origins” at the Smithsonian’s museum (in D.C.) has been decried by physicist and climate expert Joe Romm for its misleading portrayal of climate change and human history.
Rather than creating distance, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is naming another wing after David Koch. The billionaire just spent $35 million to renovate the museum’s dinosaur wing, which at long last will display a real T-rex fossil.
Like it’s New York museum counterpart, the Smithsonian in D.C. should keep the fossils and ditch the fossil fuel titans.
For a deeper look at how cultural institutions fit into the Koch brothers’ decades-long strategy for buying political power, check out Jane Mayer’s brand new book “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”