As explored in a 2017 article by Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran the fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia is a threat to climate action. They point to devious techniques employed by oil companies to use academia to influence people’s reality. They further say this is part of a “systemic pattern”.
One year ago, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center hosted a film screening of the “Rational Middle Energy Series.” The university promoted the event as “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle” and described the film’s motivation as “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues.”
Despite the use of the words “rational” and “balanced” this film is anything but. It calls natural gas clean and suggests that renewable energy and battery technology are not viable present-day solutions. The film showcases people who are meant to look like objective, nonpartisan academics when in fact they are fossil fuel insiders or they are receiving money from the industry. The event’s panel included a Shell Executive Vice President. Not only was the film directed by an oil industry vice president, both the film and the event were sponsored by Shell Oil Co. To complicate matters further Harvard Kennedy School has received at least $4 million from Shell.
Franta and Supran point out that the oil industry including Shell, Chevron, BP, and others dominate Harvard’s energy and climate policy research funding, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. It would be naive to think this has no bearing on research at the university.
Harvard is hardly the only ivy league school to be dominated by fossil fuel industry funding. MIT’s Institute’s Energy Initiative is almost entirely funded by fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron. Climate denier David Koch has given MIT more than $185 million. The same is true at Stanford where funding for a project called Global Climate and Energy, is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger. BP created UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute through a $500 million deal that gives the oil giant the power to decide which projects get funded and which don’t.
“Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors – have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge….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 Tobacco’s playbook.”