NEW YORK, November 10, 2015 | The National Association of Scholars (NAS) released today the first comprehensive account of the campaign to get colleges to sell off their investments in coal, oil, and natural gas companies.
Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels finds that the campus fossil fuel divestment campaign undermines intellectual freedom, democratic self-government, and responsible stewardship of natural resources. The report presents a wealth of original research and concludes with new essays by writers including Bill McKibben, the national leader of the divestment campaign, and Willie Soon, the Harvard Smithsonian physicist who is a prominent critic of the global warming “consensus.”
More Political Than Practical
Issued less than a month before the Paris climate talks in which President Obama is expected to repeat his vow to move America off fossil fuels to combat global warming, the NAS report shows that divestment is more of a political rallying cry than a practical step to improve the environment.
Peter Wood, president of the NAS, explained, “Divestment divides the political left. The campus activists often criticize President Obama for not going far enough in his ‘war on coal’ and his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline. Their campaign is meant to pressure him to take even more radical steps.”
As the study details, most divestments are empty political promises with little financial effect on fossil fuel companies. The leaders of the movement see the sham divestment decisions as part of the strategy. “The divestment campaign is designed to fail,” said Rachelle Peterson, director of research projects at NAS and author of Inside Divestment. “The organizers’ goal is not to cause colleges to divest, but to anger students at the refusal of colleges to divest fully and to turn their frustration into long-term antipathy toward the modern fossil fuel-based economy.”
Wood explained, “The movement pretends to change the way we generate energy, but its actual aim is to generate resentment, which is fuel for political demagoguery. The ultimate beneficiaries are rich people whose investments in ‘green energy’ will prosper only if they can trick the public to strand our reserves of coal, oil, and gas underground. They favor high-priced, inefficient technologies that happen to require massive government subsidies coupled with sweeping new government powers. Students drawn by ‘save the world’ rhetoric and prevented from ever hearing arguments on the other side have become willing pawns for a movement that, rightly understood, is profoundly anti-democratic and that will also consign much of humanity to perpetual poverty.”
Students as Pawns
Divestment campaigns, now on more than 1,000 American colleges and universities, have adopted tactics that violate the free speech of others. The activists increasingly obstruct fair and open debate by smearing opponents and by bullying other students. The NAS study documents these tactics with case studies of several colleges, including the birthplace of the divestment movement, Swarthmore College.
Wood explained, “The divestment campaigns have been organized by professional activists. Our report peels back the image the campaign projects of an organic student-led movement. In fact, it is a nationally orchestrated campaign with top-down directives.”
350.org, the organization that brought the campaign to national prominence, pays and trains students for activism and schedules campus protests. “The divestment movement is astroturf,” said Peterson.
Peterson also shows that some of the activists’ key claims are hollow. “We found that colleges and universities that claim to divest overwhelmingly choose to retain large portions of their fossil fuel investments.” On average, divestment decisions affect only about 1 percent of the college endowment and leave approximately 50 percent of fossil fuel investments in place. The study lists four “DINOs,” or divestments in name only; these are universities, including Oxford, whose divestment decisions resulted in selling no investments at all.