'This is not a neutral industry': How big oil 'colonized' college campuses to promote 'friendly science'

'This is not a neutral industry': How big oil 'colonized' college campuses to promote 'friendly science'
image via Creative Commons.

Environmentalists are not hard to find on college campuses, and many of them are sounding the alarm about the dangers of climate change. Terms like "green energy" and "carbon footprint" are not uncommon at universities.

But not everyone who lectures about climate change on campus has a plan for fighting it. In an article published by The Guardian on March 27, journalist Oliver Milman details the fossil fuel industry's efforts to promote its agenda on college campuses.

Milman cites Tim Barckholtz as an example. Barckholtz has lectured extensively at Princeton University in New Jersey about the challenges of moving away from fossil fuels, but he is a scientific adviser for ExxonMobil.

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"Dozens of U.S. universities…. retain links with the fossil fuel industry in a variety of ways, despite the growing pressure on them to cut them," Milman explains. "Several host Exxon representatives on campus and even provide them with office space, similar to Princeton's previous arrangement, a Guardian investigation has found."

Princeton student Claire Kaufman told The Guardian she was "quite shocked" to find out that Barckholtz worked for ExxonMobil.

According to Kaufman, "The fact there was an Exxon employee in this undergrad class blew my mind. It's weird and problematic. He then took the class, but the biggest issue is that public opinion is against Exxon. So, they are looking to install themselves as impartial-looking bodies in classrooms."

The student added, "This is not a neutral industry. It has an agenda; it wants to shape the conversation around climate change and energy. They aren't putting people in classrooms for fun."

READ MORE:'Inequality kills': Author Naomi Klein explains why climate change is an 'economic justice' issue

According to Georgia Tech student Evan Montoya, ExxonMobil has a presence on that campus as well.

Montoya told The Guardian, "I see something with Exxon on it once a week, at least. They have a very evident presence on campus. They definitely have a substantial influence here."

For decades, the late far-right radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that climate change was a myth and was a cheerleader for fossil fuels (Limbaugh also claimed that there was no link between cigarettes and lung cancer, which was the cause of his death in 2021). But these days, allies of the fossil fuel industry don't necessarily claim that climate change doesn't exist; instead, they might acknowledge that it's a reality but say that fossil fuels aren’t a major cause.

Milman reports, "Even as elite American universes such as Harvard have bowed to pressure to divest their multibillion-dollar endowments from fossil fuels, and student activists take recalcitrant holdouts to court, oil and gas companies continue to exert a grip upon campus life, through funded research and the physical presence of oil and gas industry employees in lectures and meetings with faculty. Fossil-fuel firms have purposely sought to 'colonize' academia with industry-friendly science, rather than seed overt climate denial, according to Ben Franta, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who has studied industry's influence over universities."

READ MORE:Texas agriculture agency: Climate change threatening state's food supply

Read The Guardian's full report at this link.

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