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UB Kicked Out its Frackedemics, Obama Should Get Rid of His: Fire Energy Secretary Moniz

This Thursday, there is bound to be a soaring speech, complete with canned sounding applause, that makes huge promises that will never come true. Given the experience of the last five years, where President Obama pacifies the people with nice speeches while ensuring the continued absolute power of Wall Street over our democracy with all his real actions, a meaningless, glowing speech is about all we can realistically expect when the president comes to UB this week. What that speech certainly won’t include is any acknowledgement of how UB students, faculty, and their community supporters successfully exposed and shut down a key corporate propaganda machine that helped con the public into accepting the climate-killing disaster that is the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

In the spring of 2012, UB Law Student Rob Galbriath and his colleagues at the Public Accountability Initiative here in Buffalo simply did what any good student or citizen should do with material published under the seal of our public universities. When he encountered a paper published by the now defunct UB Shale Resources and Society Institute supporting hydraulic fracturing (fracking), he did a truly radical thing. He actually read it. What he and his colleagues read was something that purported to be an objective, scientifically valid, peer-reviewed paper but wasn’t. It was actually a poorly thought out propaganda piece riddled with glaring errors, such as the Orwellian claim that “6>8,” which plagiarized whole sections from work published by gas and company sponsored “think tanks,” and which hid a vast web of undisclosed financial conflicts of interests in the authors. When our group of faculty and students, who actually care about things like academic integrity and objective truth, found out that this was being done in the name of the university we loved, we took action). Through months of protests, letter writing, and sharing this lie in nationwide media, we forced UB President Tripathi to shut down the natural gas industry funded institute. We successfully took one small action in helping preserve the right to seek and speak truth in the modern United Stasi of America.

It turns out this was just the tip of the iceberg. The UB Shale Institute was just one of a nationwide web of such industry-sponsored junk science publishing machines that had snuck their way, with promises of lots of corporate cash to the underfunded universities, into public and private colleges all over the country to create a fog of university validity around the extreme natural gas extraction strategy, fracking, that is polluting our ground water, industrializing our nation’s countryside, contributing to the continued climate destruction of the planet, and making truckloads of money for Wall Street investors. This nationwide scandal came to be known as frackademia. And guess what: The inventor of frackademia is none other than the former head of MIT Energy Institute and Mr. Obama’s new energy secretary, Dr. Ernest Moniz.

So, if on Thursday Mr. Obama babbles on about his “all of the above” energy plan and brags about how “we have become the world’s leading producer of natural gas—the cleanest-burning fossil fuel,” it will serve us well to remind him how we at UB helped expose the lies underlying those claims. We should advise him to start listening to the real science, which clearly shows that the only way to save our planet and species from uncontrollable climate catastrophe is to stop burning fossil fuels, all of them, now. The ”all of the above” plan to continue using nuclear power, coal, tarsands, deep water oil, and fracked natural gas when there is a very real opportunity to switch entirely to renewables will only guarantee more droughts, more wild fires, and more horrors like Hurricane Sandy that affected so many of UB’s students, as well as undrinkable water and unusable farmlands. If Mr. Obama cared anything about that little thing called the truth, not only would he stop persecuting journalists and whistleblowers, but he would also stop appointing people who have made a career out of corrupting science for the sake of profit to energy secretary. But alas, despite nice speeches about “hope, change, and moving forward,” Mr. Obama continues to prove himself to be nothing more than a corporate puppet. He, and Governor Cuomo for that matter, should know that the people of New York, and this country, are not as obedient to Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry’s dictates as they are. If the Obama presidency has taught us anything, it’s that nonviolent direct action, and not electoral politics, gets the goods. As we’ve said about the Keystone XL pipeline, if he won’t stop the frack attack on our homeland, then we will.

- Michael R. O’Brien, MD, Buffalo

Dr. O’Brien is a clinical instructor of medicine at UB College of Medicine and member of UB CLEAR (Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research).

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