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Is your university benefiting from climate change?

Although many universities are proud to talk about how they fight back climate changeSome invest in and receive donations from the same oil companies Drive global warming. Experts and students are calling the schools hypocritical and demanding change.

CBS News’ “On the Dot” environmental series investigates the scope of the problem, starting with the University of Texas System, which last year collected $2.2 billion in oil and gas royalties.

Drill ’em horns

In sustainability, the UT Austin campus promotes itself as a leader among universities by reducing emissions and waste, conserving energy and water resources, and constructing green buildings.

“I still want to give the university credit for taking steps to reduce emissions on campus. But that’s a small part of the picture,” said Ella Hammersley, a university student and climate activist.

The big picture comes into focus hundreds of miles from the Austin campus in the Permian Basin oil field West Texas, where 30% of America’s oil is drilled. The UT System owns 3,000 square miles of property there.

Energy companies lease land on the property, extract oil and gas, and pay royalties to the university system, which includes Austin and 12 other locations.

According to a report by The National Association of College and University Business Officers, oil revenues have helped make the University of Texas the wealthiest public university system in America, with a $42.7 billion endowment. At number two is the Texas A&M System, with $18.2 billion, which also gets less oil royalties from the university’s properties in West Texas.

The extent of emissions caused by burning oil and gas drilled on university land has never been quantified before.

Oil wells dot the landscape on land owned by the University of Texas system in West Texas.

For this story, CBS News asked Southern Methodist University’s McGuire Energy Institute to run those numbers for the first time and found that those emissions are 20 times higher than on campus.

“UT has a sustainability symposium every year. We have a sustainability master plan. All of this is happening while at the same time billions of dollars are being invested in oil and gas,” Hammersley said.


Under Texas law, money generated from oil and gas royalties is used primarily for campus construction projects throughout the state. Less than 1% goes toward financial aid.

UT student activist Anya Gandabadi says it is time to update the law and focus on oil profits

“I think that future investment in the country, in the world, includes what the science says, what people say, what communities say is hurting them, and rewriting those laws.”

To limit the worst effects of climate change for the world, nations must greatly reduced their Carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency, a global group with a mandate to ensure energy security, has called for an end to investment in new oil in 2021 and a rapid transition to renewable energy sources.

This is not happening on university property in the West Texas oil fields where new land is being leased and new wells are being drilled.

Dr. Michael Mann, a University of Pennsylvania climate expert and critic of the fossil fuel industry, is calling for change even in Texas.

“What more powerful message would it send if the flagship University of Texas, one of our most fossil fuel-driven states, took real leadership in the clean energy transition? It would affect the entire conversation here in the United States. And around the world,” Mann said.

The University of Texas system declined to be interviewed for this story and provided this statement:

“Oil and gas production in the Permian Basin accounts in large part for the United States’ significant energy independence, and is a strategic national resource that will be used regardless of ownership.

Through ownership of university land, beginning with the Texas Constitution of 1876, royalties received by the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System have positively impacted millions of people who have benefited from historic investments in financial aid, faculty support, teaching, research. , medical buildings and more.”

Although the university leases some land for wind and solar farms, those projects provide 0.2% of its 2022 revenue from university properties. Mann believes that the state of Texas, blessed with wind, sun and resources, can and should lead America’s energy transition.

“So that little sliver has to become the whole thing. It has to become 100% and they have to dramatically shift away from using that land to make the climate crisis worse, to using that land to profit to help get us down this path. There will be “clean energy,” he said.

University research and fossil fuel donation

A university doesn’t have to own its own oil fields to benefit from fossil fuel money. Many schools, including Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, receive grants from oil and gas companies to support climate change research.

Between 2010 and 2020, Stanford received $56.6 million in donations from oil and gas companies, according to research by progressive think tank Data for Progress. This places Stanford in the top 10 universities receiving fossil fuel donations.


Joon Choi is a PhD student who came to Stanford to study at the new, $1.7 billion Dow School of Sustainability. He was outraged to learn that the school would receive funding from partners in the fossil fuel industry.

“A complete contradiction,” he called it.

In response, Choi and other students and faculty formed a group called the Coalition for a True School of Sustainability and protested last year’s ribbon-cutting celebration at Stanford’s Doer School.

“We were really crashing the party. And there was a lot of energy. So, it created a lot of excitement,” he said.

Mann, Payne, said when universities accept grants from fossil fuel companies for climate change research, it can shine a positive light on the industry that is at the root of the problem.

“(Fossil fuel companies) are buying the Stanford University name, and that’s a lot of value to a fossil fuel industry that’s trying to buy credibility. ‘Hey look, we’re trying to solve the problem and we’re working with them. The best university around to do this,'” ” he said.

Protesters at Stanford University

Stanford protesters believe their efforts have led to more open discussions with the university about funding research through grants from fossil fuel companies.

Philip Roberge

What Stanford activists want is a university ban on those grants, a policy Princeton University in New Jersey was the first and only university to implement in 2022. Princeton has drawn up a list of 90 fossil fuel companies from which it will not accept donations.

In a process called divestment, Princeton targets “the most polluting segments of industry” and companies involved with a history of spreading “corporate misinformation” about climate change.

The largest corporation on the list is ExxonMobil, which says it has donated $12 million to Princeton. In a statement to CBS, ExxonMobil wrote: “Close collaboration between industry and academia is essential to finding real solutions to climate change.”

Princeton’s policy allows companies to re-affiliate with the university in the future if they can meet the school’s criteria.

“And that’s great because then the university is really in a position to say, it looks like we’re really engaging constructively with these organizations and contributing to moving the needle on their operations,” Choi said.

The work of Stanford student organizers is starting to pay off. The university, which declined to be interviewed for this story, recently “formed a committee to review fossil fuel funding of research.”

“This is a very positive sign, as it is just the beginning of a transparent process that we have been seeking,” added Choi.

Exiting fossil fuel investments

Many large institutional investors, including universities, buy stocks of fossil fuel companies. In a nationwide movement, 50 universities or university systems have exited those investments. This is a process called divestment.

Rutgers University is New Jersey’s largest public university system. After years of pressure from students and faculty, Rutgers announced in 2021 that it would permanently sell those investments.

“I think you’re increasingly uncomfortable with universities trying to pursue revenue streams in these industries that they know are punishing the world,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said.

According to the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitment Database, the 10 largest endowments in America are:

Six universities exited their investments entirely: Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan.

One partially exited: University of Pennsylvania.

Three maintain their fossil fuel investments: University of Notre Dame, University of Texas, and Texas A&M University.

At Rutgers, a committee of faculty, students and staff helped create an investment policy that ended all investments in fossil fuels, shifting those investments to environmentally friendly index funds that actively seek to invest in renewable energy.

“If we don’t do this for a future that we’re not going to see, what we know is that the future will be worse. We know that. So, if we know that, don’t we have an obligation to do something about it? I think We do,” Holloway said.

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