Harvard Alumni Call for End to Fossil Fuel Research Funding
Following fossil fuel divestment, alumni call on Harvard to remove research ties to Big Oil and increase transparency.
CAMBRIDGE, MA: One year after Harvard’s historic pledge to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies, a coalition of Harvard graduates is calling on the university to go further.
Concerned about ongoing entanglements with the fossil fuel industry, a new report from Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard Alumni (FFDHA) argues that Harvard should expand its concept of divestment by banning research funding from the fuel industry — especially as the university launches its new center for sustainability research, the Salata Institute.
“We’re joining an international movement of students, faculty, and alumni who are calling on their universities to reject research funding from the fossil fuel industry — just like many of them have already done for the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries,” said Caleb Schwartz, a Harvard College alum organizing with FFDHA. More than 800 faculty from over 130 academic institutions have already called for an end to oil-, gas-, and coal-sponsored research by signing an international Fossil Free Research pledge.
The FFDHA report represents the first comprehensive survey of fossil fuel funding at nearly 100 Harvard departments and institutes, revealing an alarming lack of transparency around funding sources. Outreach conducted by FFDHA shows that nearly 90% of surveyed departments, programs, and institutes across Harvard’s schools are reluctant or unable to publicly disclose whether they accept funding from the fossil fuel industry. Given the university’s increasing reliance on donations from private entities — totaling roughly $334 million last fiscal year — this raises serious concerns about public trust in the university and the academic freedom of its researchers. Decades of academic research shows that industry-funded studies tend to serve the interests of its funders, avoiding questions that could paint them in a negative light.
“Harvard’s research agenda should help advance a more just and equitable future, not the interests of oil and gas companies,” said Melanie Wang, a Harvard College alum organizing with FFDHA. “Brown, Stanford, and Princeton are all taking steps to address energy sector influences on their academic programs. Harvard has an opportunity to be a climate leader here.”
The alumni group details three recommendations for the university:
- Ban: For all research, ban sponsorship and collaboration from any company, trade group, or other organization that explores for further reserves of fossil fuels, obstructs climate policy, delays the transition to clean energy, and/or supports the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure (e.g., by building oil and gas pipelines).
- Disclose: To increase transparency and prevent breaches of the funding ban, strongly enforce and strengthen existing disclosure requirements university-wide, including by writing specific guidance for conflicts involving the fossil fuel industry.
- Implement: To turn words into action, convene a panel of Harvard faculty, students, staff, and alumni empowered to create systems to ensure compliance with new research bans and disclosure requirements. This panel should exclude members with a current financial connection to the fossil fuel industry.
Read the full FFDHA report here.
The report is endorsed by groups including the Coalition for a True Sustainability School at Stanford, Divest Princeton, the international Fossil Free Research coalition, Harvard Faculty for Divestment, and the Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard student campaign.
The Coalition for a True School of Sustainability at Stanford said: “The Fossil Fuel-Free Harvard whitepaper is a bold proposal to untangle industry funds from academia and an essential step to safeguard the integrity of climate-related research.”
Fossil Free Research said: “Fossil-free research is the only way for any institution of higher education to produce credible climate research and maintain their own credibility as voices for a suitably rapid and socially just energy transition. Harvard lagged on divestment; it cannot lag again with banning industry-funded research — the stakes are too high.”
Divest Princeton said: “The three key principles of the white paper — ban, disclose and implement — should be adopted by all universities, including Princeton. While Princeton has taken the first step toward fossil fuel-free research by banning funding from coal and tar sands companies, the ongoing funding of important research at Princeton by companies like BP and Princeton’s fossil fuel-friendly new Energy Research Fund show that the university still has a long way to go to restore its academic integrity.”
To read a full list of endorsements and statements of support visit this link.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard Alumni (FFDHA) is a coalition of Harvard graduates acting for climate justice. We range in age, expertise, and background, and are united by one goal: to sever Harvard’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.
In September 2021, Harvard pledged to divest its multibillion-dollar endowment from the fossil fuel industry, acquiescing to one of the university-wide divestment campaign’s key demands. Since then, it has become increasingly clear that divestment of the endowment is not enough. Over the past several months, FFDHA has aligned its mission with a handful of other leading universities across the world — including Princeton — to divest the research agenda by banning research sponsorship, partnerships, donations, and other connections to the fossil fuel industry.
Academic scholarship has consistently shown industry-funded studies to favor the interests of the industry — for example, research sponsored by natural gas companies downplays the risks of natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change. You can read more about fossil-free research here.
As Harvard launches new climate programming through its new center for sustainability research, the Salata Institute, FFDHA urges the university to implement and enforce strong measures to protect academic freedom and limit the fossil fuel industry’s insidious influence. This includes banning fossil fuel research funding university-wide and enforcing strong public disclosure requirements for researchers, institutes, and departments. A panel of Harvard faculty, students, staff, and alumni should be convened to brainstorm and finalize these policies.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard is the movement that successfully won the university’s commitment to divest from fossil fuels. To learn more, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Harvard students, want to get involved in our student campaign? Email email@example.com. Are you an alum? Check out DivestHarvardAlumni.com
Media contacts: email firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected with FFDHA media spokespeople.