Academic capture in the Anthropocene: a framework to assess climate action in higher education

Paul Lachapelle, Patrick Belmont, Marco Grasso, Roslynn McCann, Dawn H. Gouge, Jerri Husch, Cheryl de Boer, Daniela Molzbichler, Sarah Klain

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Higher education institutions have a mandate to serve the public good, yet in many cases fail to adequately respond to the global climate crisis. The inability of academic institutions to commit to purposeful climate action through targeted research, education, outreach, and policy is due in large part to “capture” by special interests. Capture involves powerful minority interests that exert influence and derive benefits at the expense of a larger group or purpose. This paper makes a conceptual contribution to advance a framework of “academic capture” applied to the climate crisis in higher education institutions. Academic capture is the result of the three contributing factors of increasing financialization issues, influence of the fossil fuel industry, and reticence of university employees to challenge the status quo. The framework guides an empirical assessment evaluating eight activities and related indices of transparency and participation based on principles of climate justice and the growing democracy-climate nexus. The framework can be a helpful tool for citizens and academics to assess the potential for academic capture and capacity for more just and democratic methods of climate action in higher education. We conclude with a series of recommendations on how to refine and apply our framework and assessment in academic settings. Our goal is to further the discussion on academic capture and continue to develop tools that transform higher education institutions to places of deep democracy and innovative climate education, research, and outreach to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number40
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Climate justice
  • Democracy-climate nexus
  • Fossil fuel industry
  • Greenwashing
  • Higher education
  • Participation
  • Transparency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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