Report: Harvard Takes $20 Million From Fossil Fuel Industry For Research, Climate Initiatives
Report finds Harvard has taken $20 million from major fossil fuel companies since 2010; favorability ratings drop 14 points in response
CAMBRIDGE, MA: Fossil fuel industry donations are known to have a corrosive influence on university research, but as a new report shows, Harvard has accepted massive sums of such money — at least $20 million since 2010.
This money, the report notes, puts Harvard’s institutional values at risk. Peer-reviewed research is clear that when big oil funds climate research, it skews results, a phenomenon that puts academic freedom at risk. And a failure to protect intellectual autonomy harms Harvard’s reputation and global standing — the report found that Harvard’s net favorability ratings drop a whopping 14 points when the public becomes aware that it takes fossil fuel money.
The report, a collaboration between Data For Progress and Fossil Free Research, a nonprofit coalition partner of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, analyzes university funding from major oil and gas players like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and Koch Industries. Though Harvard committed to divest its endowment from fossil fuels in 2021, it maintains financial ties with these destructive companies even as they continue to harm the planet and attack and dismiss science. Most concerningly, the fossil fuel industry has direct conflicts of interest in the research funded, such as the ExxonMobil-sponsored Corporate Responsibility Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School, where Exxon holds a “sustainability advisory” role.
These numbers, which were collected from university financial filings and grant announcements, are the first to quantify the scale of the problem — yet nevertheless, say report authors, they only represent a conservative lower bound due to Harvard’s profound lack of financial transparency. As recent reports from Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard and the FFDH Alumni campaign show, Harvard routinely hides its donors and refuses even basic research integrity protections like open disclosure of funding — and in doing so, often violates its own conflict of interest policies.
“We’re seeing Harvard’s complicity in a broader problem within academia,” said Phoebe Barr ’24, a researcher on the report and an organizer with Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard. “Academic inquiry can’t be truly free if researchers know they’re financially beholden to fossil fuel companies. And academics at a school as wealthy as Harvard shouldn’t have to depend on corrupt money to do the important work they’re doing.”
And voters agree: according to Data For Progress’s polling, a majority of voters believe universities should not take money from the fossil fuel industry for climate research. Instead, voters favor increased funding from the federal government such that these conflicts of interest are not necessary.
Data For Progress and Fossil Free Research present recommendations to remedy this pervasive issue:
- A comprehensive transparency policy. Current data is incomplete due to obfuscation of funding for many university projects. Any and all gifts of over $50,000 for research projects and initiatives should be disclosed publicly, with disclosure strongly encouraged for gifts under $50,000 as well. 77 percent of voters agreed with this policy of public disclosure.
- A just conflict of interest policy. The report identifies a need to “reject any restricted gift that includes terms/conditions that violate academic freedom, shared faculty governance, threatens the mission of the University as an institution for the common good, or otherwise poses a conflict of interest.” Voters support this policy by a +45-point margin.
- A ban on fossil fuel industry donations. The fossil fuel industry has a history of funding climate denial in order to further their business practices. To protect academic freedom, this funding should be rejected. 57 percent of voters agree with such a ban, and 58 percent agree that the federal government should take more initiative in funding climate research at universities so that they are not as dependent on corporate donors.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard activists endorse these recommendations, which are consistent with their own. The Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard alumni have also provided recommendations for implementation at Harvard specifically.
“The time is now for universities to act on environmental issues,” says Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard organizer Lola DeAscentiis ’26. “The climate crisis is upon us, and Harvard has the institutional power to lead if it makes an effort to do so. The fossil fuel industry has proven itself to be a bad actor time and time again. We hope this report will wake Harvard up to the issue and push it toward common-sense dissociation from fossil fuels.”
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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.
To make a stand against fossil fuel industry funded research at Harvard, sign the alumni petition (also open to students, faculty, and staff).