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Divestment protests are astroturf: university students are paid pawns to be political activists

Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) study: Inside Divestment (pdf)

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement (FFDM) is running on more than 1000 American colleges and universities, and about 30 of them have “divested”. It’s embedded in the tertiary sector, some 4,000 profs have signed supportive petitions, and some teach it in lectures.

The authors of a new 290 page study on Divestment Campaigns say that it’s not the grassroots thing it poses as, but is driven by professional political activists and funded by wealthy donors and foundations. The organization pushing the US campaign, 350.org, pays and trains students to be activists. Key dates and events are decided from the top down.

It’s all another charade — the holier than thou promises to sell fossil fuel stocks are often just empty PR stunts.  Most divestment declarations are empty PR — 66% of the  universities are saying they divest but hanging on to some fossil stocks. And four universities have not sold a thing — including Oxford. (Where are those protests?). But in the end,  it doesn’t matter whether the divestments actually happen, a mere detail, because if they did, they wouldn’t affect the share price anyway, and they certainly won’t cool the planet. Success is not about cutting CO2, emissions, or investments, it’s about getting out a press release, and then hyping up the students. (Though if the students also talk their uni funds into buying up solar and wind, I expect some renewables investors might be happy about that. Ka Ching. Ka Ching.)

The protests are — as per the norm at higher education — not about free persuasive debate, but about bullying, intimidation and smears.  Fools like you and I might think students would be grateful for income from fossil fuel investments which fund their universities. Instead impressionable pawns are taught to hate the energy companies which probably help them make to their classes, and sit in a warm room when they get there. The whole idea is so nutty, anti-free speech, and bad mannered that naturally it’s most popular at places like Harvard, Stanford, Yale and  Swarthmore. That’s where the most competitive students vie to be the most fashionable thinkers. Err, “congrats” to them.

I want to know where the student movement is that is protesting that universities are putting politics above students. How much extra do students have to pay to make up for the money burned on a symbolic protest? What are students missing out on because the investment board chose less profitable investments? Where are those placards…

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.”

Are universities about

FFDM is political. Divestment turns the university endowment into a billboard for virtue signaling. It turns trustees and donors into political operatives rather than patrons of higher education.

· 83 percent of all divested colleges and universities in the United States are located in states that the Gallup Poll ranks as either “solid” or “leaning” toward the Democratic party. No state that is “solid” or “leaning” Republican has any divested colleges or universities.

The same group released a report earlier this year: Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism.

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