GUEST ROOM | Cornell reproduces Big Oil’s disinformation: It’s time to ask why 

GUEST ROOM | Cornell reproduces Big Oil’s disinformation: It’s time to ask why 

The alarming gap between climate rhetoric and action is sending our planet over the brink of habitability. A landmark Congressional Report brought that into stark relief by revealing how fossil fuel industry giants have deployed a suite of tactics to deny climate accountability by “spreading disinformation and perpetuating doublespeak about the safety of natural gas and its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The report is a reminder that communication is a vital playing field in the battle between short-term profit and longer-term sustainability. The fossil fuel industry has come under fire because of its outsized contribution to carbon emissions, but addressing the climate and ecological crises requires scrutinizing the environmental impact of every industry, including higher education. As universities compete to showcase their sustainability efforts, can we rely on them to tell us the truth?

The campus-community coalition Cornell on Fire has been researching Cornell’s public messaging and actions on climate for the past year. Dishearteningly, we have found that Cornell’s administration echoes every major talking point from the Big Oil disinformation playbook.

The report’s executive summary highlights key elements of the deception campaign waged by fossil fuel companies. Cornell mirrors each point. The Congressional report states that Big Oil companies “seek to position natural gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ between coal and cleaner, renewable energy.” Cornell, in a similar vein, falsely claims that natural gas is a “lower-carbon energy source” and a “bridge” fuel that has enabled them to slash emissions by 50%, paving the way to carbon neutrality.

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