If so, they are going to be led by Quakers, who were among the first to officially say no to fossil fuel stocks. Though Quakers were considered anarchists in the Old World, in America they banned slave ownership way before government did and created Pennsylvania as a commonwealth without social elites, established churches, tithes, high taxes or compulsory military service. Are they thought leaders once again?
Yes and no. Almost everyone who wants to create an intellectual placebo for students says "divestment" from fossil fuel stocks is a good idea - sort of. MIT claims to agree but then says being "in conflict" is not a solution, they want to change things from the inside using "engagement" - by continuing to be shareholders. Harvard also. Sorry, Mr. McKibben, college public relations departments may be convincing the kids that students have won, but in reality the wealthy schools that are miring young people in student loan debt are still using that money to play in the stock market and that won't change. Camping out in a sleeping bag on the Harvard president's lawn did not convince the university to walk away from a lot of money that would just be made by some other school. They are going to decide how to invest their $30 billion, not activists.
On the exterior, the MIT approach seems hypocritical, and it is, but it is also the only practical solution. Contrary to the advertising campaigns of the government and academia, academia is not "real" science while the private sector kind is just being shills. In the middle of the last century and into the 1980s, the private sector still funded the overwhelming majority of basic research, and still funds the majority today. In 2015, with a nearly $20 trillion debt and chronic un- and under-employment in the United States, public financing is not going up any time soon. That means more scientists will either join the private sector officially or be financed by it. For that reason many schools are playing it down the middle. Oxford said it won't invest in tar sands, for example. Meanwhile, they get more money in grant funding from fossil fuel companies than they get from the UK government.
I use the term "intellectual placebo" for two reasons: First, this is not a student movement, as Mr. McKibben hoped, it is instead "astroturf" - the movement is not really green, it is instead organized, financed and run by professional green activists; second, it is just fake. Only 34 percent of the colleges who claim to have “divested” have actually done it. Four of these “DINOs”—divestments in name only - have sold no investments at all since their divestment claims.
One of those DINOs is...Oxford.
The National Association of Scholars has a new document out detailing how much of the backbone for this divestment movement is also an attempt to take American academia even farther out of the mainstream than they are.
For science, that would be devastating. People don't care about your work if they feel like you are in opposition to their values and science needs to be a politically neutral force for the public good. While a decade ago it seemed like science academia had become hopelessly lost to the bulk of Americans, the failure of progressive policies to support science funding the way Republicans did has led to a rethink and scientists in academia, shocked at the treatment of academic scientists by environmental groups such as US Right To Know, SourceWatch and Environmental Working Group, now see that it was never so simple to claim "corporate-funded" means less ethical, despite the overt partisanship in the previous generation of academics, who now comfortably have tenure, a leg up in a stagnant government funding system, and can afford to put their politics first.
Leave the wacky partisan stuff to the humanities, young scientists. Be trusted guides and stay out of hypocritical movements.
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