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Favourability towards natural gas relates to funding source of university energy centres


Methane is 28 to 86 times more potent as a driver of global warming than CO2. Global methane concentrations have increased at an accelerating rate since 2004, yet the role of fossil fuels and revitalized natural gas extraction and distribution in accelerating methane concentrations is poorly recognized. Here we examine the policy positioning of university-based energy centres towards natural gas, given their growing influence on climate discourse. We conducted sentiment analysis using a lexicon- and rule-based sentiment scoring tool on 1,168,194 sentences in 1,706 reports from 26 universities, some of which receive their primary funding from the natural gas industry. We found that fossil-funded centres are more favourable in their reports towards natural gas than towards renewable energy, and tweets are more favourable when they mention funders by name. Centres less dependent on fossil funding show a reversed pattern with more neutral sentiment towards gas, and favour solar and hydro power.

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Fig. 1: Global mean methane concentration growth rates.
Fig. 2: Sentiment towards natural gas in predominantly fossil-funded and non-fossil-funded academic centres’ and anti-fossil institutes’ reports.

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Data availability

All datasets generated during and/or analysed during the study are available in the openICPSR repository, DOI:openicpsr-14944134.

Code availability

The code used to generate all figures and tables is available in the openICPSR repository, DOI:openicpsr-14944134.


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This project did not receive any dedicated research funding. The authors’ research effort is supported by ‘hard money’ positions at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs through masters programme tuition revenue. We thank V. Li and X. Zhang (Columbia University) for research assistance; M. Cane, S. Naidu and J. Washburn for helpful discussions; E. Dlugokencky at NOAA for assistance with methane concentration data; and S. Asplund for proofreading. K. Winograd (Russell Sage Foundation) conducted library and media searches related to academic energy centres. The working title of this manuscript was: ‘Greenwashing methane? The role of university-based energy centres’. All errors are our own.

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Correspondence to Douglas Almond.

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Almond, D., Du, X. & Papp, A. Favourability towards natural gas relates to funding source of university energy centres. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 1122–1128 (2022).

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