Today the National Association of Scholars (NAS) released a new report on the fossil fuel divestment movement. Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels is a comprehensive report that discusses not only the outcomes of the movement, but its origins, motives and methods.
A sequel to Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism (another fabulous report that I highly recommend), Inside Divestment continues the exposé of anti-fossil fuel sentiment in colleges and universities, and the professional activists behind the “student” led effort.
According to the NAS press release,
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.”
…. 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.”
I highly recommend reading at least the 16-page executive summary. There is a recommendation section for students that is especially worthy of note. I have copied those recommendations here (from pages 3 and 4 of the executive summary and pages 12 and 13 of the full report).
- Open your mind. Chances are that you’ve heard only one side of a debate in which there are several substantial and well-supported positions. Only a handful of colleges have held actual debates about fossil fuel divestment, and students are typically exposed only to the claims of activists, inside and outside class.
- Think critically. Don’t take at face value the activists’ cartoon versions of what the “other side” says. The activists want you to think their opponents are dumb and/or evil. Find out first-hand what the opponents of fossil fuel divestment really say. And weigh all the arguments on their merits.
- Fight groupthink. The divestment activists are few in number but they are well-trained by professional propagandists in the techniques of making their movement appear to be overwhelmingly popular. The aim is to make you think “everybody agrees, so I should go along.” It is a false impression, but fighting it is hard because you have to make the deliberate decision to think for yourself against considerable pressure to conform to readily available sets of talking points.
- Check your self-approval. The divestment activists know how to play with your sense of yourself as a good person. They are telling you that “the right thing” is to agree with them, and disagreement is therefore a cause for shame. The self-approval offered by the activists, however, is the shallow stuff of following the herd. The real shame is accepting propaganda in the place of your own careful assessment of the evidence.
- Respect opponents. Activists have smeared those who disagree with them about their goals or tactics as “climate change deniers,” and used other words meant to stigmatize their opponents as immoral. Such mudslinging is a form of intellectual bullying. Stand up to bullies. Whatever your personal views, make a point of listening respectfully to those who have different opinions.
- Watch for fallacies. Ad hominem attacks—attacks on the character of the people you disagree with—are not good arguments against their views. The source of someone’s funding, for example, tells you nothing about the quality of his arguments or evidence.
- Speak out. This comes easily to a few but it is hard for most. But if you don’t speak out, others will steal your voice by declaring that you are among their followers. Once you have been drafted like this it is even harder to get your own voice.