Fossil fuel companies donated $700 million to US universities over a decade, possibly influencing climate research agendas

The authors of the study say funding of this kind can influence research programs and policies toward climate resolutions preferred by the industry.


According to a new research conducted by the think tank Data for Progress, from 2010 to 2020, six fossil fuel companies channeled more than $700 million in funding for climate research to 27 U.S. universities, including some of the most prominent like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University and Harvard.

The authors of the study say funding of this kind can influence research programs and policies toward climate resolutions preferred by the industry, reported The Guardian. According to Data for Progress and nonprofit Fossil Free Research, these include carbon capture, biofuels and hydrogen.

“It’s no mistake that fossil fuel companies have continued to make major financial gains through the climate crisis; fossil fuel industry executives, knowingly, have long misled the public about their impact on it and used their profits to manipulate climate research,” the Data for Progress report said.

Schools known for their climate research that received the most funding according to the report were the University of California, Berkeley, at $154 million, Stanford University at $56.6 million and MIT at $40.5 million, The Guardian reported. George Mason University, which has had a long relationship with fossil fuel companies, received $64 million.

“$700m is probably an absolute bare minimum,” said Data for Progress polling analyst Grace Adcox, as reported by The Guardian. “There’s so little transparency around these gifts.”

Berkeley says it now receives less than a quarter of a percent of its funding for research from fossil fuel companies.

According to a Data for Progress poll conducted in January of this year, 67 percent of all likely voters felt that the values and political actions of a college or university would influence them donating to or supporting the school.

“Academic inquiry can’t be truly free if researchers know they’re financially beholden to fossil fuel companies. And academics at a school as wealthy as Harvard shouldn’t have to depend on corrupt money to do the important work they’re doing,” said Phoebe Barr, an organizer with Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, who was also a researcher on the report, as Divest Harvard reported.

Berkeley professor of energy Dan Kammen — who was an adviser on climate to the UN and a leader of one of the research groups that benefited from a $500 million donation by BP to the Energy and Biosciences Institute consortium for the study of biofuels — said transparency in funding is imperative.

“There needs to be full disclosure not only when you write a paper, but also around the funding of research centers. We have clear examples where research agendas were shifted. Everyone will deny it, but the best way is to have the data open,” Kammen said, as reported by The Guardian.

Co-founder of Fossil Free Research Ilana Cohen said climate solutions should be funded by fossil fuel companies, but without allowing them to influence the research.

“[T]hey shouldn’t have any direct role in how the production of knowledge relevant to those solutions is coming about,” said Cohen, as The Guardian reported.


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