An Exxon-funded scientist speaks out
“There are definitely ways that [fossil fuel funding] can influence the research," she tells HEATED, as the fight for university divestment heats up.
Rebecca Grekin is researching how to mitigate climate change as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University’s Doerr School of Sustainability.
Her research is also funded by ExxonMobil, one of the largest and most polluting oil and gas companies in the world.
Grekin’s research, which looks at how to lower emissions of air conditioned buildings, is vital to a world that is rapidly warming. But it is also supported by the same industry that started the climate crisis in the first place—a reality she says she still struggles with.
“There are definitely ways that [fossil fuel funding] can influence the research, and I think that there are ways to set it up such that it doesn’t,” she told HEATED in an interview.
That’s why Grekin and five other graduate students signed their names to an Oct. 5 letter proposing new rules that would force a much stricter standard for fossil fuel funding for Stanford’s research.
The letter focuses on Stanford’s industry “affiliate” research programs—meaning that for a membership fee, corporations can contribute to research at Stanford—and proposes to “eliminate financial sponsorship” from any company that “does not provide a credible transition plan.” It also proposes to block funding from any company that has obstructed climate policy in the last five years.
This policy would, effectively, bar most fossil fuel companies (including Exxon) from sponsoring Stanford affiliate research. And even though Grekin’s research does not fall under the affiliate program, and would therefore not be affected, she says it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
“The problem with most universities, even Stanford, is basically everyone has been operating under the assumption that everyone sort of has a base level of ethics,” said Grekin. “I think that's a bad assumption. So you have to put these guardrails in place.” And she is far from alone in that thought.
The growing movement to expel fossil fuels from schools
As time runs out for the world to ramp down its use of fossil fuels, students at universities across the country are ramping up their push to create a financial firewall between their schools and the hyper-polluting industry.