Fossil fuel's infiltration and control of academia: The elephant's arse in the room
Last March, The Guardian ran a story in its Climate Change (Climate Consensus - The 97%) Section coauthored by Drs. Geoffrey Supran (PhD '17 MIT, Post Doctoral Fellow at Harvard's Department of History of Science, Postdoctoral Associate at MIT's Institute for Data, Systems and Society, former leader of Fossil Free MIT) and Benjamin Franta (former Harvard Research Fellow in Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School's Belfer Center), regarding the fossil fuel industry's infiltration and domination of academic institutions and their research; and how this relationship between academia and polluters poses a serious threat to the battle against global climate change. A month earlier, Dr. Franta's alma mater - Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center - had hosted a film and event touting the virtues of climate compromise entitled "Finding Energy's Rational Middle." Most would naturally assume the event's film and recommendations represented the product of the best scientific minds Harvard could bring to bear on the issues, except for the little-known fact that the event was sponsored by Shell Oil Company.
Who can argue with balance and rationality? And with Harvard's stamp of approval, surely the information presented to students and the public would be credible and reliable. Right?
The presented film's producer was Shell, yes Shell, the multinational oil company. The film's director, another oil company executive. And sitting on the event's panel, an Executive Vice President at Shell. We won't discuss the reported $3.75 Million the Harvard Kennedy School has received from Shell.
Another figure in this propaganda show masquerading as science was Richard Newell, identified in the film shown as a Former Administrator at the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Of course, cleverly omitted is Newell's Duke University "Energy Initiative" reportedly funded by a $4 Million grant from Ralph Eads III, Vice Chairman of Jefferies & Co., Inc. entrenched in the natural gas transmission and distribution industry.
The Article goes on to reveal other shills appearing in the presented film....
Michelle Michot Foss... is identified as the Chief Energy Economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. What's 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.
Does this seem somewhat schizophrenic? It is. Of course, the truth of these connections between our academic institutions and global polluters is kept as secret as possible; else, somebody might start to question the motives of certain centers, institutes, groups, movements, committees, blogs and most importantly research, at our most prestigious universities and institutes.
To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.
After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic....
Down the street at MIT, the Institute's 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 [Institute's] Board.
The situation is reportedly no better at Stanford or Cal Berkeley.
The trend continues at Stanford.... The university's Global Climate and Energy Project is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger.... It's current director also co-directs Stanford's Precort Institute for Energy, which is named after (and was co-founded by) the CEO of a natural gas company (now owned by Shell). Across the bay, UC Berkeley's Energy Biosciences Institute is the product of a $500 million deal with BP - one that gives the company power over which research projects get funded and which don't.
Again, this infiltration and control is no accident. It is the product of a massive campaign to frustrate any opposition to the continued reckless destruction of our natural environment in the quest for more corporate profits.
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 Tabacco's playbook.
So, now comes the time to talk about the elephant in the room, with its rear belching a steady stream of emissions into the mix.
As scientists and policy experts rush to find solutions to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, our institutions are embroiled in a nationwide conflict of interest with the industry that has the most to lose. Our message to universities is: stop ignoring it.
Yes, the first step must be to stop ignoring the fundamental problem with polluter-financed institutes, groups and research and to make efforts to expose this hypocrisy in our academic institutions. Once science and academia are rid of polluters' undue influence, we can start to see projects and papers aimed at a legitimate goal.