The Natural History Museum appears to have effectively endorsed the fossil fuel industry by hosting the Geological Society’s Petroleum Group 30th annual award dinner last Thursday evening (20th Jun).

Earlier that week, four members of Extinction Rebellion, including 10-year-old Elsie Luna, went to meet Sir Michael Dixon, the museum’s director, to ask him to cancel the booking, to declare a climate emergency and to consider renaming the iconic Hintze Hall (named after Australian hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, who is one of the biggest donors to the Conservative Party and is one of the key funders of UK climate science denial thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation).

Sir Michael refused all three requests and instead outlined the museum’s approach of engaging the oil industry “slowly and gently” and involving them in change.

Environmentalist Chris Packham has lent Extinction Rebellion his support, saying:

“The Natural History Museum is a repository of wonders. It celebrates life in all its diversity and has a great reputation across the world. But like all of us, it needs to urgently recognise the need for change.

“Until they demonstrate meaningful moves to renewable energy production, associations with petroleum companies are no longer tenable or tolerable. I am surprised and disappointed that the NHM haven’t preempted this, but I sincerely hope they respond rapidly to rectify their position. We need such institutions on-side.”

So on the day of the awards dinner, XR Families held their own “Dinner of Hope” outside the museum and aided by XR Fashion Action also swarmed the busy Cromwell Road to delay guests arriving for the dinner. Meanwhile, we filmed XR Youth as they staged a sit-in in the iconic Hintze Hall just as the museum was closing its doors to the public.

Under the massive skeleton of the blue whale (nicknamed ‘Hope’), around 30 protesters refused to leave, and delicate negotiations and conversations ensued amongst police, museum security and other staff.

As the hours passed, it became clear that there would be no attempt to physically remove the occupiers and it was confirmed the awards dinner had been relocated to the far less salubrious ‘Darwin Centre’, (normally rented out for less than half the price of the Hintze Hall). So after holding the space with songs, chants, banners and a lock-on for around three hours, the campaigners left together peacefully.

The oil industry has been under sustained attack recently with some very public challenges. The BP-sponsored National Portrait Awards were delayed by protests, and the Royal Opera House ‘BP big screen’ event was also targeted.

Mark Rylance has just announced his resignation from the Royal Shakespeare Company over oil sponsorship too.

As the truth about climate change seeps into public consciousness the fossil fuel industry appears to be facing the sort of backlash that the tobacco industry suffered once the realities of heart and lung disease were finally mainstream in the noughties.