While the fossil fuel industry clearly has a hold on American universities Canada is not much better. It was not that long ago that Stephen Harper’s conservative government pulled the country out of the Kyoto Protocol, cut research funding and silenced scientists. Although they were replaced by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015, they have continued to push for expanded fossil fuel exports. In Alberta the newly elected NDP aggressively support their oil industry.
Much like our neighbors to the south Canada’s oil industry uses its wealth to wield tremendous influence over our politics and our politicians. This is the subject of a David Suzuki article titled Government for the People not Fossil Fuel Corporations.
While we are well warranted to question the power of big oil in government, there is something even more cynical about wielding influence over our institutions of learning and our centers of research. Such control undermines science and ultimately limits what we know.
As Kevin Taft writes in his book Oil’s Deep State the fossil fuel industry works to influence governments but they also seek to influence public institutions like universities. A recent report shows how the industry interferes with a universities’ independence. The study by University of Western Ontario’s Alison Hearn and York University’s Gus Van Harten reveals how Enbridge funding for the University of Calgary created conflicts of interest, compromised academic freedom and gave the company influence over decision-making.
In 2004 University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper secretly funneled money from the fossil fuel industry to a group who disputed climate science and advocated rejecting the Kyoto Protocol. Bruce Carson was a senior advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who worked to set up an energy institute at the University of Calgary. He was fined 50k for illegal lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel industry in 2016.
In a Maclean’s article Taft wrote, “The link between fossil fuels and global warming has been known since the 1980s, and so has the solution to global warming: phasing out fossil fuels. Rather than accepting the science and adapting to other sources of energy, the oil industry has developed an aggressive campaign to obscure the science and advance its own interests.”
In a Desmog Blog interview, Taft says, “The universities, starting in the 1960s, were the foundation of much of the scientific research underlying global warming. To win the battle and delay action on global warming, the oil industry needed to gain influence in universities to smother or distort or counter the science that was coming out. And they succeeded substantially.”