Climate Change Studies By Academia Paid For By Fossil Fuel Industry


An article written for The Guardian by Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran accuses many of America’s top universities of being little more than shills for fossil fuel companies when it comes to studies about climate change. They say that energy companies have ripped a page directly out of the tobacco industry playbook. The strategy calls for flooding academia with so much money to fund energy and climate change research that the universities have lost all semblance of impartiality and are simply reporting results pleasing to their industry paymasters.

climate change studies paid for by fossil fuel industry

Want an example? In February, Harvard University proudly screened a new film called The Great Transition as part of what it calls its Rational Middle Energy Series — programs designed to explore the future of energy. Harvard says the series is predicated on “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues.” The screening took place at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

What Harvard Didn’t Say

Here’s what the people who watched the film were not told. Shell was the sponsor of the event and was also the producer of the film. The director is vice president of a family owned oil and gas company and has received nearly $300,000 from Shell. The Harvard Kennedy School has received at least $3.75 million from Shell. The discussion panel at the screening included a Shell vice president.

Want more? The film claims natural gas is clean energy but does not mention the deadly methane emissions that fracking to release natural gas from the ground causes. It goes on to say that renewable energy solutions are “a very long time off.” Richard Newell, identified as a former administrator at the US Energy Information Administration, is featured in the film. “You can get 50% reductions in your emissions relative to coal through natural gas,” he says without mentioning that the Energy Initiative he founded and directed at Duke University was funded to the tune of $4 million by an executive at a natural gas company.

In the film, Michelle Michot Foss is skeptical about battery production for renewables.  She is identified as the chief energy economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. That is true but what is not said is that “the Energy Institute she founded at UT Austin is funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel interests including the Koch Foundation, or that she’s a partner in a natural gas company,” according to Franta and  Supran.

Fossil Fuel Company Influence At Other Universities

The authors say the problem is endemic throughout academia. At MIT, for example, its Energy Initiative “is almost entirely funded by fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron. MIT has taken $185 million from oil billionaire and climate denial financier David Koch, who is a Life Member of the university’s board.” MIT’s chairman told the Boston Globe, “I don’t see a conflict.”

At Stanford, the Global Climate and Energy Project is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger. Its founding and current directors are both petroleum engineers, one of whom is also a director of Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, which is named after the CEO of a natural gas company now owned by Shell. Across San Francisco Bay, UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute is the result of a $500 million deal with BP. That arrangement gives the company the power to decide which research projects get funded and which don’t.

American Climate Research Corrupted By Money

“Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors – have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge,” say the authors of The Guardian article.

“This norm is no accident: it is the product of a public relations strategy to neutralize science and target those whom ExxonMobil dubbed “Informed Influentials,” and it comes straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook. The myriad benefits of this strategy to the fossil fuel industry (and its effects on academic research) range from benign to insidious to unconscionable, but the big picture is simple: academia has a problem.”

Actually, academia doesn’t have a problem. America has a problem. It is common knowledge that fossil fuel money has bought and paid for the winning electoral campaigns of most member of the US Congress. Now we learn that the corrosive power of oil and gas money has reached deep inside our institutions of higher learning as well. When one considers the emissions from extracting, transporting , and consuming fossil fuels contribute to illness, disease or premature death for many Americans, the actions of fossil fuel companies should be condemned by all as a direct threat to the public good.

Are  There Legal Remedies For Academic Cheating?

The attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts are battling in court right now to find out what ExxonMobil knew and when it knew it. If they are successful, civil or criminal litigation could result. In criminal law, the doctrine of depraved indifference could potentially be used to prosecute oil and gas company executives both past and present. Based on the information presented by Franta and Supran, some university administrators could be the target of investigations by state attorneys general as well.

Americans are drowning in misinformation sponsored by fossil fuel industry representatives. It is a willful, calculated strategy to deceive the public about the dangers of fossil fuels, one based on tactics developed by the tobacco industry and pursued aggressively for more than 50 years. It is long past time for the American justice system to develop counter strategies to punish rogue corporations who willfully endanger human health in exchange for profits.

Source: The Guardian


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I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Epicurus

    If no banker went to prison for mortgage fraud, what’s the chance an oil and gas executive will go to prison for frying the planet? Zilch.

    • Mike J

      I think the difference is, as bad as mortgage fraud is with the resulting impact to our economy, it doesn’t compare to the scope and magnitude of a collapsing global ecosystem due to climate change. The economy can reverse itself in a few years by implementing better regulations and safeguards. The effects on the climate and the ecosystems we depend upon due to burning fossil fuels at an uncontrolled pace are going to last hundreds to thousands of years. Massive global extinctions of many species will have catastrophic impacts on human civilization. At some point in the future, probably within most of our lives, the realization of what we’ve done to our planet will become clear to even the most ardent climate change deniers.

      • Steve Hanley

        Well said, Mike.

      • Epicurus

        “At some point in the future, probably within most of our lives, the
        realization of what we’ve done to our planet will become clear . . . .”

        I often wonder that when ACC becomes obvious even to the Joe the Plumbers of the world if the people who conspired to hide the cause, and the politicians who helped them, will be shot on sight by angry citizens. Wingnut politicians should start thinking about the long term and start “evolving” on the issue now.

    • Steve Hanley

      I find the differences in how our justice system works (or rather doesn’t work) appalling. The bankers should have gotten life at hard labor without possibility of parole.

      A few underlings at Volkswagen have been indicted for letting diesel cars with higher than permitted pollution levels loose on the streets of America. The damage they did is one one millionth as severe as what the fossil fuel companies have done and yet no one except the AG of NY and Mass is taking any interest.

      Criminal activity is criminal activity. All should be treated equally by the law and those who do the most damage to society should be judged most harshly — starting with Rex Tillerson.

      There are two justice systems in America, one for the poor and another for the rich. It’s long past the time when the rich should pay dearly for their transgressions.

      • Epicurus

        “There are two justice systems in America . . .”

        Oh yeah. Just about everything we were taught in school about America was myth. America is one big fraud. Democracy in America is nothing but illusion. But, hell, it’s a country founded by slave owners, sociopaths who had no compunction about kidnapping, raping, and working millions of people to death so they could live like kings. This class of people now profits by defrauding the 99.9% in every way imaginable.

        “Make America Great Again?” It never was great except in the delusions of misguided and under-educated people.

        • Steve Hanley

          You would enjoy Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History Of The United States,” although it sounds as if you may have already read it!

          • Epicurus

            I read parts of it years ago. I need to read it again. It should be the standard American history textbook.

          • Steve Hanley

            Anyone who has NOT read that book cannot truly claim to be “educated.” Of course, now we have a black brain surgeon claiming slaves were merely “immigrants.” Stupidity is rampant upon the land.

          • Epicurus

            How would you like that SOB operating on your brain?

            Think what he has done for the reputation of surgeons. Brain surgeons were supposed to be the smartest of all. Ugh.