Bella Kumar arrived at George Washington University excited by the school’s reputation as a prestigious research institution. But after seeing a presentation on the university’s Regulatory Studies Center and its deep ties to fossil fuel interests, Kumar was shocked.
Now, as hub coordinator of Sunrise GW, Kumar is among dozens of student activists sparking a burgeoning movement spanning higher education and research institutions from Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Mass., to Cambridge, England, and Sydney, Australia.
Known as Fossil Free Research, the campaign capitalizes on the historic success of fossil fuel divestment, which last fall pressured longtime holdout Harvard University to pledge to divest its $53 billion endowment. Like divestment, Fossil Free Research emerges in response to enduring attempts by Big Oil to spread misinformation about the climate crisis and weaken climate policy, including by seeking to enlist support from the scientific community.
“The effort to shape mainstream academia and mainstream scientific thinking is something that the industry articulated as part of a campaign to delay action on climate change, and so it’s important to address it,” said Ben Franta, a graduate fellow and climate disinformation researcher at Stanford University.
While industry funding usually receives limited acknowledgment from universities, oil and gas giants frequently publicize their relationships, as these partnerships help lend credibility to the claims that the fossil fuel companies support a green energy transition. In reality, as The Guardian recently revealed, these companies “are on track to spend $103m a day for the rest of the decade exploiting new fields of oil and gas.”
By funding university research, Big Oil helps shape the understanding of the solutions available for addressing the climate crisis to policy-makers, the media, and the world. Campaigners with Fossil Free Research are calling for a societal reckoning. The question now is whether the movement can push major research institutions like Harvard and Stanford—universities with prominent industry ties—to take action.
Big Oil’s record as a bad-faith climate actor is well-documented. Last summer, the Greenpeace investigative news outlet Unearthed published undercover footage of an ExxonMobil senior lobbyist detailing the company’s nefarious playbook for heading off climate action under the…
Read More: Why Are Fossil Fuel Companies Funding Climate Change Research?