The university abandons the Santos brand of children’s science roadshow after climate concerns were raised

The university abandons the Santos brand of children’s science roadshow after climate concerns were raised

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Macquarie University ditched the Santos brand and support for a school science roadshow after a senior Australian climate scientist complained that sponsorship of a company expanding fossil fuel production was inappropriate.

Professor Lesley Hughes asked her own institution, Macquarie University in Sydney, to withdraw from hosting one of the events for the Santos Science Experience, arguing that the company’s expansion plans were putting children’s futures at stake.

In a move ostensibly to appease critics, organizers set up a parallel event – The Science Experience – losing the Santos name, but with only Macquarie University and the University of Tasmania listed as hosts.

Related: According to a study, Australia is funding only one-tenth of its fair share of global climate action

Hughes told the Guardian, “We would not enter a year 10 science experience program sponsored by [cigarette maker] Benson & Hedges. I don’t think it should even happen to an oil and gas company ”.

The Santos Science Experience charges year 9 and 10 students between $ 65 and $ 260 to attend programs ranging from one to four days at more than a dozen universities and other institutions. It starts next week and runs through the end of the year.

A Santos Science Experience web archive from late March shows Macquarie University as a participating institution.

But the university told the Guardian that it was now hosting students under the banner “The Science Experience,” which would be supported by the nonprofit organizers of the event, the Victoria-based Science Schools Foundation. That foundation is also organizing the Santos events.

Hughes is a high-profile scientist and said he was confirmed this week as a new member of the Government’s Climate Change Authority who will advise the Albanian government on emission targets.

He said he spoke to colleagues after seeing an email asking academics to get involved. “I said that I personally thought the university shouldn’t work with a fossil fuel company that is trying to explore other fossil fuels.

“I also don’t think so [Santos] it should sponsor a science program when the science is clear that we can no longer have oil and gas exploration if we are to go to net zero.

“The paradox here is that they are hosting a high school science program when the science is so clear and those kids’ futures are at stake.”

According to the Santos Science Experience website, students do experiments, participate in site visits, and hear about careers in science, technology, and engineering.

Dozens of universities and tertiary colleges are hosting Santos-branded events, including the University of Technology Sydney, the University of South Australia, the University of Melbourne, RMIT and the University of Sydney.

Macquarie was listed on the official event website as the host of a three-day event from 4 October. But on Thursday – the same day the Guardian inquired about the event – Macquarie’s name went missing.

The National Director of the Science Schools Foundation, Jacqueline Bellars, said the event will take place in Macquarie and that no children will be disappointed. She asked questions about any criticisms of the sponsorship of Santos and the university.

He said that the program of each event was set by the organizers and they were geared towards encouraging young people to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and to expose them to life in the university or in tertiary education.

He said Santos’ main sponsorship began in 2020, taking over from the former main supporter ConocoPhillips, another oil and gas company.

In a statement, Macquarie University said that “its involvement in this event is focused on promoting science, so the decision was made to proceed with our Science Experience event without any sponsorship or branding from Santos.”

“The Science Experience held in Macquarie is an important opportunity for high school students, including rural, regional and indigenous students, to engage with Stem,” the note reads. “The activities that will take place in Macquarie from 4 to 6 October are now supported by the Science Schools Foundation.”

Related: Australian parliament passes first climate change legislation in a decade

A statement from Santos states: “Santos is proud to fund this initiative which helps more than 3,000 children each year to engage in science, and we have been doing so since 2013.”

Santos is also a prolific sponsor in the world of sport, appearing on the back of the Australia and Queensland Reds rugby team jerseys.

The gas company also sponsors the road cycling Santos Tour Down Under. The event came under constant pressure from protesters for sponsorship, with some professional cyclists calling for an end to the deal.

Senator David Pocock, a former Wallaby, likened company sponsorship to the era when tobacco companies used sports sponsorship to try to maintain social legitimacy.

Earlier this year, Tennis Australia confirmed it had dropped Santos as a lead partner just a year after a multi-year sponsorship deal.

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