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Students outraged after discovering eyebrow-raising investments made by universities: ‘A total contradiction’

“These research projects have real-life implications.”

“These research projects have real-life implications."

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Several major universities are in the hot seat as the topic of climate change heats up on campus. 

A CBS News investigation recently uncovered that many universities touting the fact that they are working to fight climate change are accepting donations from the same dirty energy companies that drive global warming. 

What’s happening?

Students and experts alike are understandably upset that many major universities are profiting from climate change while they claim to be fighting it. 

A new study by Data for Progress found that from 2010 to 2020, six dirty energy companies — or companies that make money off of oil, coal, and gas — funneled more than $700 million in research funding to 27 universities in the U.S.

Some of the particularly egregious top schools on the list are those that champion climate research, including Stanford University. June Choi, who chose to get her Ph.D. from Stanford’s Doerr School of Sustainability, was dismayed to learn that the school accepted funding from the dirty energy industry, calling it “a total contradiction.” 

Why is it concerning that dirty energy companies are funding education? 

Dirty energy use is the largest source of harmful, planet-overheating carbon pollution in the world, so when universities accept donations from oil, gas, or coal companies for climate change research, it threatens to put a positive spin on the very industry causing the problem.

As Bella Kumar, lead author of the Data for Progress report, pointed out, “These research projects have real-life implications — for example a lot of the fossil fuel-funded research has re-centered natural gas in the conversation about renewables.”

Universities that claim to be doing more to fight climate change than they actually are is an example of corporate greenwashing, which has become increasingly prevalent and problematic. 

Greenwashing is when a company or establishment makes false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product or practice. Dirty energy companies have been doing it for years, and these relationships with universities are just another example. 

Michael Mann, a climatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said “[Dirty energy companies] are purchasing the name Stanford University, and that is worth a lot to [an] industry that’s trying to purchase credibility. ‘Hey look, we’re trying to solve the problem and we’re working with the greatest universities around to do so.’”

What’s being done to hold universities accountable?  

Since the news came out, students have formed oversight committees and are starting to demand transparency from their universities. 

Further, due to pressure on universities to divest from stock in dirty energy companies, 50 universities or university systems have exited those investments. 

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