Fossil Fuel Companies Are Not the Only Funders of Climate Denial at Universities

As student organizers continue to secure divestment wins, a new post-divestment campaign model is beginning to take shape. Divestment ensures that universities no longer fund the fossil fuel industry, but does nothing to prevent the reverse. Funding higher education enables the fossil fuel industry to dictate research, gain hiring power, shape policy, spread climate denial, and strengthen their greenwashing efforts. Already, students and faculty on college campuses across continents are demanding that their universities reject fossil fuel money. At this crucial time, it is our responsibility as climate organizers to consider what exactly we mean by “fossil fuel money” in the first place. 

It would be a strategic error to restrict this definition to funding from fossil fuel companies alone. For this new chapter in climate activism to engage with the intersectionality of the climate crisis, we must broaden the definition of fossil fuel money to include the Climate Change Counter-Movement. A term originally coined by sociologist Robert Brulle, the CCCM is a loosely affiliated network of organizations dedicated to funding universities, think tanks, and other groups that they believe will contribute to the protection of the free market, no matter the ecological cost. The Charles Koch Foundation, DonorsTrust, and Devos Family Foundations are among the most notorious CCCM funders.

Funders of the CCCM have incentives that are aligned with, but distinct from, the fossil fuel companies themselves. Beyond the simple goal of maintaining the profitability of fossil fuels, funders of the CCCM prevent climate action at universities as part of a broader radical capitalist agenda. In addition to ecological destruction, this agenda is grounded in white supremacy, patriarchy, wealth inequality, and more. We see it when CCCM funders are involved in other regressive movements, such as inciting moral panic surrounding critical race theory, diminishing labor union power, and restricting reproductive freedom. In this sense, even when a university accepts funding from a CCCM organization that makes no explicit mention of climate change, that funding is still intimately linked to systems that fuel the climate crisis. That funding is fossil fuel money.

Incorporating CCCM organizations into our definition of fossil fuel money in calls for funding bans is the nuanced strategy we need to truly end the complicity of higher education in the climate crisis. It will not always be easy to draw a direct line from CCCM funding at universities to climate obstruction on college campuses, but that does not mean the connection isn’t there. If you are a college student, begin researching fossil fuel funding of your university, identify like-minded students and faculty, and launch a campaign of your own. Most importantly, remember that you are part of a global movement. Student climate activists from around the world are here to support you. The climate crisis is an intersectional issue. The solution must be, too.  


Katarina Sousa is a student organizer with UnKoch My Campus, and a first-year at Simmons University.

Jake Lowe is a student organizer with UnKoch My Campus and Sunrise GW, and a junior at George Washington Universit

Tags: Climate Justice, Pipeline Resistance, Student & Campus Organizing