Campaigners accuse universities of 'supporting industry greenwashing'Katie Kasperson

500 leading academics have signed an open letter calling on universities to ban fossil fuel funded climate research.

The letter, addressed to university presidents and vice-chancellors in the US and UK, said that funding “supports industry greenwashing”, because it provides companies with “scientific and cultural legitimacy”, and can “taint critical climate-related research”.

It also condemns the fossil fuel industry’s “extensive record of spreading climate disinformation, anti-climate lobbying, and refusal to align its core business practices with the demands of climate science.”

It goes on to argue that these inconsistencies pose a “severe reputational risk to universities” threatening to undermine their credibility on climate issues at a time when their contributions are crucial.

Since its release two weeks ago (21/3), the letter has been signed by more than 500 academics and climate experts from more than 125 Universities.

Over 80 Cambridge academics have signed the letter, including mathematician Sir William Timothy Gowers, biochemist Sir Thomas Blundell, and professor of postcolonial studies Priyamvada Gopal.

Other high-profile figures have also backed the letter, among them 2020 Nobel prize for physics winner and Oxford don, Sir Roger Penrose, and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

One of the signatories, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, Michael Mann, said: “We’re talking about companies that stall climate action at every turn - 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.”

In a tweet, former US vice-president Al Gore also expressed his support for the campaign, saying that there was no place for the money and influence of the fossil fuel industry in universities, and that the “innovation and knowledge” of the academic community are “essential in our fight against the climate crisis.”

But not all academics were convinced. Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, argued that it is reasonable for universities to accept funding from fossil fuel companies, as long as said companies are committed to transitioning to clean energy.

However, founder of the End Climate Science campaign Genevieve Guenther argued that this was a “myth”, and pointed out that only 1% of fossil fuel companies’ spending goes towards developing technologies that either reduce or do not produce greenhouse gas emissions.

The group organising the campaign, Fossil Free Research, was established by student activists with the support of academics. It aims to end the influence of the fossil fuel industry in climate-related research at universities.


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