by Judith Curry
Have you been wondering whether the university’s calling for fossil fuel divestment also accept research funds from fossil fuel companies?
The ‘evils’ of oil companies and their funding of research has been the topic of much angst, e.g. Merchants of Doubt, and most recently the RICO20. On a previous post, Industry funding and bias, I introduced a 2010 report Big Oil Goes to College.
All this is occurring against a backdrop of many universities considering or implementing fossil fuel divestment plans. I haven’t written about this, although I occasionally flag an article in Week in Review. I regard it as a side show and pointless exercise, mere tokenism and a ploy in the green PR war, that isn’t influencing actual investments in the fossil fuel sector in a meaningful way.
In case you have been wondering whether the same divesting universities receive research funding from fossil fuel companies, well wonder no longer.
From Greenpeace: Investigation: Top universities take millions from fossil fuel giants despite divestment drive. Excerpts:
Britain’s top universities have admitted taking £134m in funding from oil, gas and coal companies in the past five years – even as many move to divest themselves from the fossil fuel industry, according to a Greenpeace investigation.
The majority of all the funding – nearly £100m – went to the University of Manchester, University of Cambridge, Imperial College and Oxford University.
Last year Glasgow University became the first academic institution in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry, removing £18m in shares and endowments into other funds. Warwick made a similar decision in July and Oxford has approved a partial divestment, selling investments in tar sands and coal extraction. Manchester is under pressure to follow suit, removing £9.5m of shares held in BP, Shell and others – yet all of these institutions continue to take money from fossil fuel giants.
The investigation also found some top universities – including Oxford and UCL – are receiving more funding from oil and mining companies than from major scientific research councils, sparking fears that industry pressures could be dictating the focus of scientific research.
The use of money from fossil fuel giants to fund research which may be used to increase extraction also raises questions about the University’s positions on divestment – apparently aimed at reducing global fossil fuel use.
JC comment: Interesting and eye-opening article, well worth reading the whole thing.
A refreshing alternative to such hypocrisy is highlighted in an article in American Energy News: New MIT climate plan a model for American universities. Subtitle:
MIT focus on engagement with industry a clear alternative to environmental movement’s focus on conflict
MIT says it is joining the fight against climate change, but rather than divesting from fossil fuel companies, MIT plans to engage with them to mitigate the “risk of catastrophic outcomes.”
Eco-activist Bill McKibben and 350.org have been leading a campaign to have colleges worldwide remove 200 publicly traded companies – including BP, Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil, and Total – from their investment portfolios. Fossil Free MIT gathered 3,400 signatures in support of purging these companies from the school’s $13.5 billion endowment.
But MIT chose a different strategy.
“We believe that divestment — a dramatic public disengagement — is incompatible with the strategy of engagement with industry to solve problems that is at the heart of today’s plan. Combatting climate change will require intense collaboration across the research community, industry and government,” the plan states.
Engagement with industry, collaboration on solutions, helping to achieve a “pragmatic transition plan to achieve a zero-carbon global energy system” – MIT’s approach is completely opposed to that of McKibben and his environmentalist supporters, which is to isolate and cripple industry, hoping that the new “clean energy” and “clean industries” can fill the gap.
Its five-year plan addresses five areas of climate action:
- research to further understand climate change and advance solutions to mitigate and adapt to it
- the acceleration of low-carbon energy technology via eight new research centers
- the development of enhanced educational programs on climate change
- new tools to share climate information globally
measures to reduce carbon use on the MIT campus
The MIT plan is a clear alternative to the divisive, conflict-oriented, sterile strategies of the international environmental movement.
This is the kind of plan American industry should get behind, the kind of plan more American colleges and universities should adopt. And the kind of plan American governments should support with sound policy, resources, and political support.
Robert Millard, chairman of the MIT Corporation, calls the plan “bold, respectful, complete, honest, and well-reasoned. It therefore reflects…the highest aspirations of MIT.”
I agree. Let’s hope MIT serves as a model for many more American institutions of higher learning.
There are two drivers at universities: politically correct sustainability initiatives, with climate change at the forefront; and the need for more funding, targeted at industry given the declining availability of public funding.
The divestment issue highlights the hypocrisy of these universities. MIT is taking exactly the right approach to this issue, and they should be applauded not just for their sound and non-hypocritical business decision, but for doing something constructive to actually improve the dialogue and partnership between academia, industry and government. Such partnerships can seed progress in science, technology and policy for the socioeconomic challenges in the 21st century.