The case against fossil fuel divestment

October 26, 2018

In the aftermath of Senator Susan Collins’ vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, hundreds of progressive activists on Twitter announced their intention to participate in an economic boycott against Collins’ home state of Maine. According to an article published in The Hill, one individual, restaurant owner John Tesar, announced he would cease his annual purchase of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of seafood from Maine.

Why should businesses and residents of the state of Maine be the punching bag for angry progressive activists? First off, Maine has two senators, one of which, Angus King, voted against Kavanaugh, so casting blame on the entire state is absurd. But, more importantly, these types of economic boycotts are missing the point: If you were appalled by Senator Collins’ vote, then vote her out of office in 2020.

If you’re out of state, then spend the next two years contributing to the Maine Democratic Party or other organizations that are recruiting candidates to challenge Senator Collins. It’s both cruel and counterproductive to take your anger out on the residents of Maine.

This brings us to the issue of fossil fuel divestment, which a vocal group of Brandeis students and faculty members have passionately advocated for over the past few years. Brandeis currently invests a small percentage of its endowment in fossil fuel companies. Since the Board of Trustees meeting in June, President Ron Liebowitz and Board of Trustees Chair Meyer Koplow sent an update that the Board hadn’t come to a consensus on the issue of divestment.

While this may have angered students who are committed to addressing the issue of climate change, they know full well that pressuring the administration to divest a small amount from a select group of companies will achieve little-to-nothing in terms of turning the tide towards a more environmentally friendly planet.

With President Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords and many politicians refusing to acknowledge the reality of climate change, the way to make a difference is to vote. As is the case with boycotting Maine businesses, pressuring Liebowitz to divest Brandeis’ small amount of fossil fuel holdings will do nothing but punish select companies and their employees, making no difference on the national effort to combat climate change, as President Trump continues to jettison environmental regulations left and right.

Brandeis University already announced its intentions to comply with the Paris Climate Accords and has made efforts, such as the implementation of eco-friendly toilets two years ago, to demonstrate its commitment towards protecting the environment.

Students have a First Amendment right to peacefully protest on campus, but that doesn’t mean that those with the loudest voices represent the majority of students or are espousing a sensible position. In a country where less than 20% of 18-29 year olds voted in the 2014 midterm election, our voices are best heard when we show up at the ballot box, and we have that opportunity on Nov. 6.

Students that use the Liebowitz and the Board of Trustees as a piñata to air out their grievances surrounding the Trump administration are misplacing their anger, and the administration is right to occasionally stand up to them by rejecting their ideas, which is perfectly healthy.

It would, in fact, be unhealthy for President Liebowitz and the University to blindly give into protestors’ demands, which, as seen in other colleges across the country, gives the loudest students, often on the political left, ammo to impose whatever political agenda they wish to upon their campus, even if the majority of students disagree with them.

And until the President or Congress presents a viable plan to reduce carbon emissions and viably re-train those workers in fossil fuel industries, it would be incredibly harsh to target those in the fossil fuel sector, which is what Brandeis students are aiming to do with their “demands” for divestment. Brandeis students should be smart enough to realize that, in an era where the economic gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, encouraging financial boycotts on fossil fuel companies would disproportionately harm those who are making just enough to put food on the table.

If it were up to many environmentalists and, unfortunately, many Brandeis students as well, coal miners across the Midwest, as well as gas station workers, would lose their jobs in an effort to combat climate change. Punishing those who work in these industries, many of whom in the latter category are immigrants making less than the median salary, is incredibly harsh, especially when there are little-to-no efforts by politicians to retrain these workers with the skills to thrive in more eco-friendly industries.

My issue with those calling on Brandeis to divest their holdings from fossil fuel companies is part of a broader concern with those who misplace their anger. This includes the progressive activists who are targeting Maine businesses for the actions of Senator Susan Collins, as well as environmentalists who are willing to throw tens of thousands of workers under the bus in order to reduce carbon emissions. As a capitalist, I naturally cringe when a vocal group of students tries to impose their will upon the university as a whole, especially when it comes to how the university chooses to invest their money.

If you want to make your voice heard on environmental issues, vote this November. Don’t impose your political will upon the university and your fellow classmates, many of whom don’t agree with you.

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