Recent articles and reviews seem to be drawing more attention to a rising concern for universities and the fossil fuel companies that continue to provide significant resources for energy and climate research efforts.
In deference to researchers who depend on adequate funding for the work they undertake, there are additional concerns that must be weighed as they make their funding decisions.
The fossil fuel industry, which is already under fire in a world rightly focused on climate change and the need to transition away from hydrocarbon-based energy, is also being challenged by the impact of Environmental, Social and Governance principles.
Consequently, investment and access to capital in this sector are already being shunned by climate-conscious investors and lenders.
Today, shareholder advocates are supporting resolutions at many lending institutions demanding they cease their financing for companies that are advancing fossil fuel production. Given the current geopolitical environment and the fragile nature of our global energy supply chain, this course of action is not only shortsighted, but it is dangerous.
This does not bode well in the decades ahead as our world and its energy needs continue to grow. The concern, and simple reality we must face, is that the fossil fuel companies and their products will be needed for years to come.
They must provide the energy required to support global economic growth and rising standards of living while we are making what will be a very long transition to the low-carbon solutions that are necessary to attain established net-zero objectives.
All the companies in this sector depend on research to make that transition, and their contributions, both financially and technically, are absolutely necessary and must continue.
It is research that will advance the new and clean energy technologies, and researchers must not be uncomfortable with funding from the companies that are willing and, for now, able to provide that support.
Despite these concerns, in March more than 500 academics, universities and climate researchers called for an end to fossil fuel industry funding of university climate research.
Thankfully, though, research will continue.
By way of example, the efforts of Cornell University and two Cornell research startups, propose a Northeast research hub to make hydrogen a viable, clean-energy alternative to carbon-based fuels. This is a multistate collaboration led by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, and organized by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which will apply for a portion of $9.6 billion of available federal funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
However, federal funding alone has never been adequate.
Universities play a critical role in building the knowledge base needed to advance research and provide the platforms where new ideas can flourish.
As such, if administrators of those universities are really trying to understand the nature of research needed to transition from today’s energy modes, while also addressing the energy challenges the world faces, they must be honest with themselves, their students and their trustees.
They must understand that their collective interests are best served if both the knowledge base and financial resources of today’s energy sector, which is already intent on meeting investor, ESG and climate goals, continue to be available to contribute to energy research and climate solutions.
To be clear, this is not greenwashing, it is common sense.
Michael J. Roman is a senior fellow on public policy/ESG for the American Council for Capital Formation and president of CertainPoint Strategies, LLC. Mike is an Exxon Mobil Corporation annuitant with 42 years of global energy industry experience. During his career he held a broad range of fuels marketing, operating, finance and government affairs management positions. You can reach Mike by email.