A Frank Take

Fossil Fuels Allowed to Pollute Classrooms and Lecture Halls

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The Eversource-produced children’s book ‘Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend’ portrays methane as a clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings. It’s not.

The climate crisis puts our future at risk and much of non-human life on the planet in jeopardy, so it’s utter lunacy that the vast majority of humanity and Mother Nature should be held hostage by the fossil fuel industry and its sycophants. That we have to beg greedy corporate executives and self-serving politicians to exercise even a little restraint is revolting — and, sadly, it seems fruitless.

The industry’s grip is so strong fossil fuel propaganda is advanced in lecture halls and classrooms around the country.

Last year The Guardian published a story about an ExxonMobil senior scientific adviser who had his own office at Princeton University and taught a class of engineering students on “negative emissions technologies,” during which he criticized divestment, warned that the transition away from fossil fuels will be difficult, and that the unfolding climate emergency was “not our fault.”

“It’s hard for me to figure out who wins [from divestment],” the industry tool reportedly told the class. “There are, like, 10 people who win. They are sleeping better at night, but technology is the loser.”

There are plenty of other “losers,” as the burning of fossil fuels produces air pollution that harms human health and generates toxic emissions that drive the climate crisis.

Research by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that some 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution. Harvard University researchers have also identified at least 21 different hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and hexane, in consumer-grade natural gas (methane) supplied to southern New England.

The spin doctor also noted that ExxonMobil makes the type of rubber that goes into most car tires. “Are all of the Princeton security cars going to go back to the Flintstones and have no tires?” he asked. “There are some parts of this they didn’t think through completely.”

The same could be said about Princeton University, an Ivy League school with an $86,700 tuition for the 2024-25 school year. The New Jersey university has a $34 billion endowment.

What’s next? Use student-paid class time to lecture them about the virtues of gambling, smoking, and drinking? After all, the endowments of nonprofit institutions of higher learning need further padding.

How about giving a Planned Parenthood health care provider an office and let them lecture a class about the “wonders of contraception”? Perhaps ExxonMobil also makes that type of rubber.

Inviting fossil fuel PR into classrooms is hardly limited to the Ivy League. Dozens of colleges and universities have partnerships with the climate-changing industry.

For $5 million, Louisiana State University will let a fossil fuel corporation weigh in on faculty research. Or, if you’re not one of the industry’s titans, for a mere $100,000 a fossil fuel company can participate in a research study, with “robust” reviewing powers and access to all resulting intellectual property.

Those are some of the conditions outlined in a boilerplate document that LSU’s fundraising arm circulated to industry players, according to a recent story by The Lens.

The news organization’s reporting found that after Shell donated $27.5 million in 2022 to create the Institute for Energy Innovation, LSU gave the fossil fuel behemoth license to influence research and coursework for the university’s new concentration in carbon capture, which is taught at Princeton as “negative emissions technologies.” Either way, it’s simply an industry boondoggle to keep the fossil fuel fires burning.

In this midst of this fossil fuel cash grab by our educational system, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last month released a study that showed the emissions of three heat-trapping gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — surged last year to historic highs.

Global average carbon dioxide concentrations, for instance, jumped last year, “extending the highest sustained rate of CO2 increases” in NOAA’s 65 years of recordkeeping.

Fossil fuel propaganda isn’t limited to college campuses, however.

Grist, in 2021, reported that fossil fuel corporations and their allies have long sought to shape how the next generation perceives the climate crisis, writing that the mission is “turning the classroom into a battleground for what the country’s future ideology will be.”

Inside Climate News, in 2017, reported that since at least the 1950s fossil fuel organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute have targeted U.S. classrooms as they sought to shape future opinions of the industry.

In 2012, leaked documents revealed that the Heartland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank that promotes climate denialism, planned to spend $200,000 over two years to sow doubts about the scientific consensus on climate change in K-12 classrooms.

A few years later, the Heartland Institute mailed 350,000 booklets titled, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, to students across the country.

The Grist story noted how a pro-fossil fuel booklet produced by Eversource, an energy utility that serves some 4.3 million New England customers, was allowed to be placed into the backpacks of the students at the John M. Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Mass.

Titled Natural Gas: Your Invisible Friend, the propaganda portrays methane as an ideal, clean way to cook food, power vehicles, and heat and cool buildings.

All of these classroom shenanigans and money tossed around because the industry has long known about the many dangers of its products.

Frank Carini can be reached at [email protected]. His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.

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  1. Universities are having students arrested fro trying to stop a war, but giving free rein to giant corporations happy to kill millions with pollution and climate catastrophes. It is a very sick world and the rich are trying to kill us all.

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