US Higher education and fossil fuels

the limits of liberalism in university climate action

Article appearing in Climate and Development

  • Co-Author:
  • Danya Al-Saleh with Neha Vora
  • Publisher: Taylor and Francis
  • Date: October 23, 2023
Climate and Development

US universities have positioned themselves in recent years as sites of progressive green action, cutting-edge research, and student-driven change. These universities have even been exported to wealthy oil-dependent states in the Arabian Peninsula under the guise of developing their societies away from fossil fuels through liberal education. These countries, however, have developed their national strategies within imperial relationships with Great Britain and then the United States, in part to uphold the prosperity of the West and its development of liberal democratic ideologies and institutions, of which higher education has played a central part. Drawing on research within US branch campuses in Qatar, and focusing specifically on Texas A&M Qatar, an engineering school that is a site of what we call ‘petro-education’, we trace how these US universities reproduce the fossil fuel industry’s operations. Bringing this research in conversation with scholarship that challenges the liberal mythologies of US higher education, we argue that US universities largely remain embedded in a broader agenda to reconcile the climate crisis with what appears to be a greener capitalism that extends fossil fuel extraction into the future.