Will Other Elite Unis Follow Princeton's Lead in Rejecting Fossil Fuel Money?Breaking News
tags: climate change, higher education, fossil fuels, divestment, colleges and universities
Ilana Cohen is a lead coordinator of Fossil Free Research and Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a 2022 Brower Youth Award recipient, and a senior at Harvard University.
Michael E. Mann is a presidential distinguished professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.
Even after over a decade of campaigning urging universities to “divest” their endowment funds from fossil fuels, surprisingly little is known about just how much fossil fuel money flows to the nation’s top research institutions. Oil and gas giants including Chevron, Shell, Eni, Equinor, and ConocoPhillips fund premier climate and energy research initiatives at Harvard, MIT, and Columbia—where even the Climate School takes fossil fuel money. Right now, at Stanford, community members are rightly in uproar over the dean of the Doerr School of Sustainability deciding to accept fossil fuel money. Meanwhile, Princeton has maintained a long-standing research partnership with notorious climate denial and delay purveyor ExxonMobil and hosts a Carbon Mitigation Initiative sponsored by oil and gas giant BP. While more than 20 universities in the past year have pledged to stop investing their funds in fossil fuel stocks, getting them to stop taking donations has been a harder sell.
But on September 29, students and academics around the world won a historic victory when Princeton University committed not just to divest but also to disassociate from 90 fossil fuel companies, including the university’s long-standing research partners and world-infamous climate delay and denial giant ExxonMobil. This represents the first pledge among higher education institutions to restrict fossil fuel industry money for climate research—the first formal recognition that partnering with the companies driving climate breakdown to identify climate solutions is, in fact, an obvious conflict of interest. And coming amid a wave of Fossil Free Research activism, it reflects the growing power of student and academic campaigners seeking to free our institutions from undue and dangerous industry influence.
For those unfamiliar, the Fossil Free Research movement is an international effort to address Big Oil’s toxic influence on climate research. Building on the huge progress of the divestment movement, it officially launched this past April. The launch was marked by the release of an open letter now signed by 750 academics, including members of the National Academy of Sciences, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors, Nobel Prize recipients, university chancellors, and even the former president of Ireland. Only six months later, calls for Fossil Free Research are surging across countries.
Last week, students, faculty, and alumni at Stanford marched to protest the new Doerr School of Sustainability, which has compromised its core mission by welcoming fossil fuel industry funding. At the University of Cambridge, academics are preparing for a historic vote on whether to adopt what would be the most comprehensive Fossil Free Research policy at a major institution to date. Academics at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University are preparing for a similar vote, building directly on the legacy of leadership by public health institutions in ethical research funding.
Two decades ago, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, along with numerous other public health schools, decided to ban tobacco industry funding, in recognition that an industry whose core business model was predicated on community harm could not be a trustworthy partner in that harm’s resolution. It shouldn’t have taken universities this long to recognize that Big Oil funding presents the same problem when it comes to climate solutions research.