This morning (20 February) Extinction Rebellion staged a protest at London’s Science Museum, aiming to draw attention to the illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and their impact on young people’s health. Children as young as two joined the sit-in, or so-called “die-in”, wearing pollution masks designed by artists Jeremy Deller, Gavin Turk and Gee Vaucher, musician and artist 3D from Massive Attack (who is widely rumoured to be Banksy) and fashion designer Bella Freud.
The protestors gathered in the museum’s Making the Modern World gallery, in response to the Science Museum Group’s promotion of cultural sponsorship by fossil fuel companies and acceptance of oil sponsorship for its children’s gallery, Wonderlab. They wore masks that read “Listen Up” and banners saying “Enough is Enough on Air Pollution,” with facts demonstrating the links between air pollution and serious health conditions. After a silent sit-in, parents made speeches about the topic.
The masks were donated by the artists to Extinction Rebellion UK and will be auctioned later this year. The proceeds will be split between Extinction Rebellion and other groups working directly to end the harm caused to children by air pollution. Jeremy Deller is known for lending his artwork to acts of resistance, designing protest flags for 14 American art institutions and distributing posters saying Strong and stable my arse in response to Theresa May's then-tagline.
In 2015 the World Health Organization estimated over seven million people die from air pollution each year, making it the largest single environmental risk to health globally. 4.5 million of these deaths are due to outdoor air pollution. The families protesting today call on the government to take action to reduce pollution levels in the UK, and demand that public and private institutions like the Science Museum declare a climate emergency, and cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.
Dr Terry Matthews, a member of Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, said today: “Breathing illegal toxic air from fossil fuel combustion causes deaths and hospital admissions from heart attacks, strokes and asthma. Air pollution also increases the risk of dementia, impaired brain function and depression; and miscarriage and infertility. Child development is delayed and child lung development can be reduced by around one tenth.
“As we are surrounded by families today, my heart goes out to the most vulnerable who will suffer for many years to come from our failure to act on air pollution.”
Last year we spoke to three co-founders of Extinction Rebellion to discuss the creative industries, wherein XR’s Clive Russell called on the cultural sector to rethink its sponsorship. The group has repeatedly worked with creatives to spread its messages, from projecting Jamie Hewlett artwork on the Houses of Parliament to working with Rankin, Jordan Rossi and Richard Curtis on a star-studded film titled One Lifetime.
GalleryExtinction Rebellion Science Museum protest. Photos by Zoe Broughton.
Photo by Zoe Broughton.