In response to “The case against fossil fuel divestment:” Sam Charnizon

November 1, 2018

A recent opinion article titled “The case against fossil fuel divestment” claimed to be an indictment of the argument for divestment of Brandeis’ assets from fossil fuels. The article was anything but. Instead of offering a coherent, fact-checked analysis of the divestment proposal, the author chose to meander through a series of baseless claims that attacked and belittled the divestment supporters, not the merits of their plan. Not only did the author provide little in the way of substantive details regarding either side of the argument, but he also attempted to undermine the position of activists by incorrectly conflating the issues of voter turnout and the wishes of the Brandeis community regarding the university’s future.

The author begins with what can only be seen as an unrelated anecdote regarding the boycott of Maine businesses undertaken by some Americans in response to Maine Senator Susan Collins’ support of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. He rightly realized that punishing a state’s businesses for something their senator did is counterproductive. However, he is wrong to assert that there is more than a basic similarity between this situation and the one regarding divestment. His preposterous claim contains no citations and offers no proof that the people employed in these industries cannot transition into roles within renewable energy industries. The author instead attempts to back his claim by insisting Brandeis students must be “smart enough” to recognize the plight of these workers. Not only is this an attempt to demean anyone who disagrees with him, but it also ignores the executives who profit from fossil fuels. Implying that the people chiefly hurt by divestment are lowly laborers while ignoring the wealthy executives attacking our environment is simply misleading.

He somehow goes on to insist that when a university aligns actions with student goals, it is somehow only acquiescing to the demands of “the loudest students.” I take exception to the implication that impassioned students voicing their concerns are only “loud;” this pejorative reference to the dedication of climate change activists is an obvious attempt to delegitimize their voice. Furthermore, he offers the baseless assertion that these students are “often on the political left.”

The piece culminates with the author’s insistence that voting is the best avenue by which students can express their opinions; “if you want to make your voice heard on environmental issues, vote this November. Don’t impose your political will upon the university.” He explains that when voter turnout rates are so low, protests hold little merit. The irony here is that protestors need to act because elected officials in this country will not. University divestments are tangible progress towards avoiding the very real danger that climate change poses; universities in fact often set the tone of social progress. The author’s paternalistic insistence that Brandeis students express themselves only by voting is his most fragile argument. He may be correct that voter turnout is of critical importance, but do not let that distract from his attempt to silence protestors. His thinly veiled attempt to invoke voter turnout rates to condemn protest must not be left to stand.

His thinly veiled attempt to invoke one issue as condemnation of another should not be allowed to stand.

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