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An oil pumpjack is silhouetted against the morning sunrise on July 8, 2021, north of Bakersfield, California.

An oil pumpjack is silhouetted against the morning sunrise on July 8, 2021, north of Bakersfield, California. (Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)

500+ Academics Call for End to Climate Research Funded by Fossil Fuel Industry

"Our universities must be climate leaders, not climate laggards," said one climate scientist.

Andrea Germanos

Universities in the U.S. and U.K. on Monday faced a demand from over 500 leading climate experts and academics to reject any environmental or energy research funding from the fossil fuel industry.

"To all universities, at this moment of extreme crisis, we urge you to heed our call and cut damaging research ties with the fossil fuel industry."

"Our universities must be climate leaders, not climate laggards," said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the UCLA Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering.

"That means refusing to lend their reputations to fossil fuel industry greenwashing and ensuring the integrity of research that shapes public discourse and policymaking on the urgently needed energy transition," he said.

Kalmus is among the prominent signatories to an open letter urging the educational institutions to cut ties with oil, gas, and coal firms because accepting funding from the very same industry that fueled and continues to fuel the climate emergency legitimizes their operations and represents "an inherent conflict of interest."

The letter was released by Fossil Free Research—a new international campaign calling on universities to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry.

Other noted signatories include Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University; Eric Chivian, founder and former director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize; and Mary Robinson, adjunct professor of climate justice at Trinity College Dublin and a former president of Ireland.

While individual institutions may formulate a ban based on their specific contexts, all the universities should, at a minimum, rule out climate research funding from firms classified as part of the "Carbon Underground 200," referring to the top 100 coal and the top 100 oil and gas publicly traded reserve holders globally, according to the letter's organizers. The schools must also reject funding from those firms forging ahead with new extraction and fossil fuel infrastructure plans.

The letter likens accepting climate-related research funding from fossil fuel firms to taking Big Tobacco money to fund public health research.

"Already, numerous public health and research institutions reject tobacco money due to the industry's extensive record of spreading disinformation around the public health consequences of its products," the letter states. "Today, the fossil fuel industry has employed disinformation tactics from the same playbook, working to sow doubt about climate science, silence industry critics, and stall climate action."

The signatories also reject the industry's claims it can be a partner in addressing the climate crisis, noting that while the firms may "present themselves as leaders in sustainability, fossil fuel companies' investments in oil and gas continue to dwarf their renewable energy investments, which represent just a few percent of their total capital expenditure." Some major firms are also even plowing ahead with new extraction plans despite heightened warnings of the planetary emergency, global calls to change course, and economic realities of renewable energy.

Universities also give the industry "much-needed scientific and cultural legitimacy" by accepting funding, the letter adds, calling it an "incredibly valuable" asset that enables a "greenwashing their reputation and cleansing their records of climate destruction."

"To all universities, at this moment of extreme crisis, we urge you to heed our call and cut damaging research ties with the fossil fuel industry," the letter concludes.

According to signatory Mann, the funding choice before universities is clear.

"We're talking about companies that stall climate action at every turn," he said in a statement. "Our universities simply can't justify trusting these companies with critical climate research, especially at a moment in time when we need such research more than ever."

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