Divestment follies

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/03/03/divestment-follies/

Say something often enough — like “97 percent of climate scientists agree” — and people will tend to believe it. Add the concept of identification, in which like-minded people gravitate toward one another, and a movement, a shared narrative, can be created.

The psychological principles of repetition and identification are two tactics used in both political organizing and brainwashing. And they are hallmarks of the fossil-fuel divestiture movement, which is in play on more than 1,000 universities and colleges.

One of their targets is Boston University, where a recently published commentary in the campus newspaper calls for the school to “divest from the 200 largest publicly-traded fossil fuel companies that hold a vast majority of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves.” The goal is to save the world from climate change.

Students who glom on to the divestiture movement, however well-intentioned, fail to recognize they are being manipulated by professional political organizers. Although activists like Bill McKibben of 350.org talk tough about climate change, the movement’s actual goals are far from humanitarian on close inspection.

study by the National Academy of Scholars (NAS) says the divestiture movement’s “abiding purpose” is “to pressure governments to favor wind, solar, and hydro power, and to make colleges and universities pressure cookers of sustainability. The sustainability movement, in turn, combines envi­ronmental extremism, global warming alarmism, opposition to modern industrial economies and market economics, an affinity for global regulation, and a distaste for representative government.”

The NAS says the movement’s practitioners are zealots and bullies who have no patience for consensus or dissenting points-of-view. They have grabbed microphones, prevented reasonable discourse, demonized their opponents, and held aggressive rallies. For more than 100 days, pro-divestment students have been staging a sit-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In April 2015, students camped in the Swarthmore finance office for 32 days, comparing themselves to the protestors clamoring for democracy during Arab Spring.

Although some universities have caved, the divestiture movement’s overall impact has been small. The NAS found 44 colleges and universities had announced plans to divest by Sept. 1, 2015, accounting for 0.24 percent of the estimated 18,000 colleges and universities in the world. The 29 U.S. colleges and universities which have agreed to some level of divestment account for 0.62 percent of U.S. post-secondary Title IV degree-granting schools.

Many schools refusing to divest cite financial reasons, noting it could harm their endowments. Swarthmore College and Pomona College estimated the cost to be $200 million and $485 million over 10 years respectively. Wellesley College warned that divestment would “conflict with the purpose of the endowment” and “would seriously compromise” the school’s academic mission.

Colleges and universities also acknowledge divestment will have no impact on the climate or fossil-fuel companies. NAS reports 79 percent of the institutions recognize divestment will not achieve the stated goals. Importantly, about a third say divestment is too political and cuts “against higher education’s purpose to advance knowledge and protect and promote the search for truth.” Harvard President Drew Faust warned that that this movement poses a serious risk “to the independence of the academic enterprise.”

Yet, there are professors who give course credits to students who join the divestiture movement, and institutions that allow it to stifle “the tradition of civil debate and the purpose of higher education.” Rather than teach students the skill of critical thinking, these academes and academies are pushing the groupthink and politics of radical environmentalists.

Impressionable students need to hear both sides of the issue — even if they side with fossil fuels as more humanitarian (and less crony-prone) than so-called “green” energy. “If good and evil are measured by the standard of human well-being and human progress,” as one critic of divestment noted, “we must conclude that the fossil fuel industry is not a necessary evil to be restricted but a superior good to be liberated.”

Robert L. Bradley

Robert L. Bradley

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research and author, most recently, of “Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies.”