Harvard affiliates signed a letter published in March demanding that UK and US universities stop accepting funding from fossil fuel companies for climate change and energy research.
Fossil Free Research – a campaign launched by Cambridge Climate Justice, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard and climate change experts – authored the letter, which argues that climate research funded by the fossil fuel industry “creates a conflict of interests that compromises the academic freedom of researchers”.
Of the nearly 500 scholars who signed the letter, 91 were affiliated with Harvard.
Ilana A. Cohen ’23, a FFDH organizer who also helped distribute the letter, explained that the purpose of the campaign was to advocate for the accountability of the university, as “true leaders climate”, to ban the financing of the fossil fuel industry.
“It really makes a strong case that universities — to be true climate leaders — just need to ban fossil fuel money for research on climate change, environment, and energy policy,” Cohen said.
Several academics have agreed on the need for a ban. Peter C. Frumhoff, an associate at the Harvard University Center for the Environment and signatory to the letter, accused the fossil fuel companies of spreading misinformation while “promoting their continued exploration of oil and gas sites.”
“I have no doubt that today’s researchers and today’s universities who are currently accepting fossil fuel money to support their climate and energy research have the best intentions in their work. “, said Frumhoff. “The problem is that getting support from the fossil fuel industry entirely undermines the goal of supporting a clean energy transition.”
Harvard Art Museums curator Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, who also signed the letter, wrote in an email that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a major oil exporter, increased its support for fossil fuel divestment.
“Not only is this devastating to the earth and the climate, but with the ongoing war in Ukraine, we see fossil fuels funding Putin’s war,” she wrote.
Similarly, Emmerich Davies, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, drew parallels between sports and the fossil fuel industry.
“The FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar is a very clear example of the use of sport to whitewash issues related to the organization of the tournament and human rights abuses in the country,” he said. he declares. “I don’t think we as academics should give fossil fuel companies the opportunity to do something similar by greening their reputations by funding climate change research.”
James M. “Jim” Recht, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, climate activist and signatory, said he believed the fossil fuel industry had offered funding to researchers to allay any concerns about the industry . He said he had seen with his own eyes how the money had “distorted” the perspectives of his colleagues.
“If you give someone or an entity enough money, it’s very difficult for that entity or that individual to continue behaving in a morally correct manner,” he said. “They know it, and they take advantage of it because they have virtually unlimited amounts of money and power.”
Recht said divestment from fossil fuels will help individuals realize the funds are “morally repugnant.” He pointed out that the sooner universities “wash their hands” of fossil fuel industry money, the sooner they will be able to build “democratic and equitable energy infrastructure.”
Harvard, in a policy reversal, announced last September that it would let its remaining investments in the fossil fuel industry expire, although the University did not provide a timetable for the liquidation.
Cohen said the Fossil Free Research campaign sent the letter to Harvard’s administration and hopes Harvard will take action.
“I’m really optimistic that this letter will build momentum to hold the administration to account on the issue of fossil fuel money and conflict of interest, because we haven’t seen any accountability there yet. -down,” Cohen said.
Recht added that he thinks Harvard has fallen behind in the face of the political and economic challenges of the climate crisis.
“Harvard’s role thus far has been to illustrate the fragility and moral weakness of large, influential institutions,” Recht said.
“Harvard has been telling people like me for the past 10 years, ‘we’re not interested in altering the status quo.’ And I hope that will change,” he added.
University spokesman Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment.
—Editor Christie K. Choi can be reached at [email protected]
—Editor Carrie Hsu can be reached at [email protected]