A group of climate activists, scientists, and students are launching a national database for collaboration between Dutch universities and the fossil industry. Scientists at the UvA are also participating. “Transparency is a necessity to make good decisions.”
The Mapping Fossil Ties database consists of a map showing 14 universities. For each university, it lists the collaborations that have taken place between the fossil fuel industry and Dutch universities since 2015. That is the year the Paris Agreement was concluded. Some projects have been in place since 1978. The database distinguishes between research projects, external research chairs, career events, prize money, sponsorship of study associations, discussion panels and guest lectures. It also lists which anti-fossil fuel action groups are active by university.
According to the Mapping Fossil Ties database, 12 out of 14 universities have ties to the fossil fuel energy sector. In particular, technical universities work extensively with oil companies such as Shell and Aramco, the Saudi Arabian oil and gas multinational.
The database draws on public sources and is being compiled by scholars, students and independent research institutes such as the research firm Solid Sustainability Research. Action groups End Fossil, FossielvrijNL, Milieudefensie, Reclame Fossielvrij, Scientists4future, ScientistRebellion, Social Tipping Point Coalition and University Rebellion also collaborated.
Seven research projects at the UvA
At the time of writing, there are 109 collaboration projects in the database, 11 of which are at the UvA. Seven of these are research projects, two involve prize money, one involves a career fair and Marjan van Loon’s visit to debate platform Room for Discussion is also on the list.
The list is not yet complete and will be added to in the coming months. The compilers have also sent an Open Government Act (Woo) request to eight Dutch universities so far, which requires public and semipublic institutions to be transparent.
Folia posed five questions to UvA postdoc psychology Maien Sachisthal, who collaborated on the database and is active at Scientist Rebellion.
Why is a national database for collaboration with the fossil fuel industry needed?
“It seems that universities themselves do not have an overview of their collaboration with the fossil fuel industry. They are compiling that list, though; the Woo requests put additional pressure on that. After all, transparency about money flows is necessary for a meaningful discussion about collaboration with third parties. This applies not only to the fossil industry but to all research. Moreover, research in Nature shows that when institutes are funded by the fossil industry, the research results are often in favor of the fossil industry.”
Why did you choose to include guest speakers at the university, such as Marjan van Loon’s visit to debate platform Room for Discussion? Surely the university is precisely a place for debate?
“Yes, debate should be possible. But inviting guest speakers from the fossil industry to the university gives it a social license to continue their business.”
What is your role in this initiative?
“I helped write the Woo requests, enlisting the help of people within Scientist Rebellion and Scientist4Future. Last November I did my own research to bring to the surface the collaborations between Dutch universities and the fossil industry. That was not easy. It is very difficult to find information about money flows, that information - if it can be found at all - is scattered across different rapids and websites.”
The UvA dialogues on collaborations with the fossil industry continue without the presence of Folia and the national press. This is because press presence “has too much impact on what participants dare to say”.
Folia previously reported on the online meeting on collaborations with third parties in late March. The next three meetings will take place at Science Park, the Roeterseiland campus and the University Quarter starting Monday, May 15. In the summer, the UvA will make a decision on collaborations with the fossil industry based on the discussions.
You are doing research on the psychology of human behavior and climate change. What prompted you to become active at Scientist Rebellion?
“In psychology, we know how difficult it is to change human behavior. And also to communicate the urgency of an issue like climate change. The realization moved me to become active at Scientist Rebellion. I think it’s important as a scientist to speak out. By the way, this is separate from the national database. Indeed, the idea is not to push the discussion in a certain direction. The coalition’s agreement is to create a transparent database that can be used for all kinds of purposes, by researchers, journalists and also by the College Board.”
From your background in psychology, do you think the database can help compel people to act?
“There are many initiatives happening at the same time now, such as occupations at universities. Next Monday, May 15, the UvA dialogues on campus about third-party collaborations will start. You have to see that separately. The database is purely to provide information on the basis of which the discussion can take place, regardless of what comes out of it. Compiling a list of collaborations is not activism, if you ask me. Transparency is a necessity to make good decisions.”