Running on Empty: The Immorality of Fossil Fueled Education

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released this week makes it crystal clear that we are in a climate crisis. It is past time for colleges and universities to make addressing the climate crisis our top educational priority for the sake of all humanity and all life on earth.

No more major gifts and endowments from fossil fuel companies and their allies! No more fossil fuel executives on boards of trustees and regents! No more programs, professorships, and scholarships funded by the fossil fuel industry! No more sitting college and university presidents serving as highly paid directors of fossil fuel companies. No more lending “academic” authority to fossil fuel interests through schools, institutes, and faculty positions funded by those same interests with expectations for a return on their investment – yes, sooner or later they always expect a return on their investment.

Fossil fuel divestment in higher education must be much more than removal of an institution’s financial investments from fossil fuel companies. It must be a complete divestment from all the strings of influence and power this industry uses to manipulate the academy for its purposes and to its advantage.

Higher education can no longer profit from the industry that is destroying a livable climate and spreading propaganda and misinformation about the reality and severity of the climate crisis we are facing right now and which will grow increasingly more severe in the future. Higher education cannot simultaneously work to save the planet while profiting from its destruction and being governed by the money and power of the very persons and corporations fueling the existential threat we are experiencing.

And for those campuses and their leaders who argue that we cannot survive without fossil fuel money and its influence on the academy, we need to be clear that our campuses and our communities need something much more important than fossil fuel money to survive. We need a livable climate, and a livable climate will not be possible with ongoing collusion with an industry that has spent billions of dollars lying about the climate crisis in order to continue to make trillions of dollars from ruining our climate. Institutions of higher education can no longer maintain their pernicious partnerships with oil, gas, and coal companies if they hope to help society address the fierce urgency of the climate crisis rather than perpetuating the practices that are hurling us all towards climate chaos.

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