Big Oil has been donating millions of dollars to US universities for climate and energy research projects. Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, and MIT are some of the universities that have been called out for accepting money from Big Oil. In fact, Tim Barckholtz, ExxonMobil’s scientific adviser, not only had office space on the Princeton campus but was allowed to lecture students on numerous occasions about the challenges of moving away from fossil fuels.
While Princeton announced in September 2022 that it would divest from fossil fuels, including ExxonMobil, dozens of universities in the United States have made no such move and continue to accept millions of dollars from Big Oil to fund their climate and energy research. The top ten, according to a March 2023 report published by the Guardian, are the University of California Berkeley, University of Illinois, George Mason, Stanford, University of Texas Austin, MIT, Princeton, Rice, Texas A&M, and Harvard. UC Berkeley alone accepted $154 million in the decade ending in 2020.
“Fossil-fuel firms have purposely sought to ‘colonize’ academia with industry-friendly science, rather than seed overt climate denial,” says Ben Franta, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford. Topics favored by Big Oil do not, for example, involve cutting back on consumption of oil and gas, which threatens their core business model; instead, the corporations prefer to emphasize carbon capture technologies.
This skews university research that should be in the public interest into paths decidedly more industry-friendly, Franta says—and that research ends up influencing our nation’s energy policies, to boot.
While the Guardian’s recent article is welcome attention from across the Atlantic, corporate media in the United States has reported on this ongoing issue only fitfully through the years.
Source: Oliver Milman, “Exxon in the Classroom: How Big Oil Money Influences Us Universities,” The Guardian, March 27, 2023.
Student Researcher: Angel Kifer (Frostburg State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University)
Editor’s note: For previous coverage by Project Censored of this topic, see Fossil Fuel Industry “Colonizing” US Universities, story #21 from Censored 2018: Press Freedoms in a ‘Post-Truth’ World.