Academics Say Universities Must Ban Research Funding From Big Oil

Academics Say Universities Must Ban Research Funding From Big Oil

Last week, a group of nearly 500 academics from across the US and the UK signed a letter calling on universities to ban research funding from the fossil fuel industry. The letter states that "accepting fossil fuel industry funding for research meant to address the climate crisis undermines the academic integrity of climate-related research” and "compromises researchers’ academic freedom.”

Maintaining close ties to the fossil fuel industry is a notable conflict of interest for universities that wish to serve as global leaders on climate change. Accepting dirty funds often undermines a university’s climate commitments and results in unsustainable projects and the greenwashing of corporate reputations.

Now This: Sheldon Whitehouse on Greenwashing and Fossil Fuel Industry, May 14, 2021.

Al Jazeera: Should fossil fuel advertising be regulated?, October 20, 2021.

Why This Matters

Many major companies have made climate pledges and claim to be climate leaders. Yet, a recent study found that the vast majority of the 55 largest corporations in the US have not taken concrete action. Activities like climate impact disclosure and strings-attached research funding allow companies to appear cleaner than they really are. Because universities serve as global centers for research, they could play an influential role in addressing the climate crisis and hold polluters accountable. But that would only be possible if they separate from fossil fuel interests.

NBC: Are Major Companies Living Up To Their Net-Zero Pledges To Combat Climate Change?, February 10, 2022.

The Time For Action Is Now

Recent reports have emphasized the need for accurate research and urgent action. Renewable energy sources may be growing, but oil and gas retain their stronghold. According to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), methane emissions in the energy industry are 70% higher than the official numbers reflect, while CO2 emissions have spiked. Nearly 2.5 billion people living in cities around the world are exposed to deadly air pollution, while about half of the world’s children are at "extremely high risk” from impacts related to climate change.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

GMIS: The IEA's Roadmap to Net-Zero by 2050, July 25, 2021.

Among the letter's signatories are many prominent academics, including Peter Kalmus, Cornel West, and Michael Mann. In a statement to the Guardian, Mann described the importance of this campaign:

This sort of funding has been used to compromise leading academic institutions. It’s a two-for for polluters: they purchase the imprimatur of these institutions and their presumed authority and objectivity, while funding research that often translates into advocacy for false solutions and "kick the can down the road” prescriptions like massive carbon capture, which is unproven at scale, and geoengineering, which is downright dangerous. That is entirely the wrong path forward.

VICE: The Fossil Fuel Industry Wants You to Think It’s Solving Climate Change, July 14, 2021.

ENDEVR: How Oil Companies Hid the Truth About Climate Change (Documentary), November 24, 2021.