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Climate Change climate change protest

Published on November 25th, 2019 | by Steve Hanley

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Harvard & Yale Students Disrupt “The Game” To Demand Climate Action

November 25th, 2019 by  


It was like a modern day reprise of Don McLean’s iconic song American Pie.

“The players tried to take the field,

The climate geeks refused to yield.

They don’t like what will be revealed,

The day the planet dies.”

At “The Game” — the annual showdown between the gridiron gladiators from Harvard and Yale — several hundred student protesters took to the field during halftime, demanding their schools divest from their investments in fossil fuel companies.

Wesley Ogsbury, a captain of the Harvard football team, told The Washington Post that both Harvard and Yale, which between them have endowments exceeding $70 billion, are investing in industries that are “destroying our futures. When it comes to the climate crisis, no one wins, Harvard and Yale can’t claim to truly promote knowledge while at the same time supporting the companies engaged in misleading the public, smearing academics and denying the truth.” Does it sound to you as if there might be an echo of the thoughts of Greta Thunberg in his words?

Nora Heaphy, an undergraduate at Yale, seems to have a firm grasp of things. “They believe that they can engage with these companies and get them to change their fundamentally extractive business models, which we think comes from a place of naivety amounting to gross negligence,” she told The Guardian. “It’s absurd to make those kinds of claims. So since then our campaign has moved away from administrative engagement, recognizing that it is often a stalling tactic.”

Schools Defend Their Actions

Harvard has refused to consider divestment despite repeated urging by students and faculty. A Harvard representative told the Post the school “respectfully disagree[s] with divestment activists” over how to confront climate change. The argument is that being a stockholder in various fossil fuel companies gives the university the ability to influence corporate action in the boardroom. A spokesperson for Yale added that the school disapproved of the protest.

That argument by a supposedly erudite institutions fails to take into account that shareholder initiatives designed to push those companies to address their role in a warming planet have met with little to no success in past years. But there may be an even stronger, market-based reason to dump fossil fuel holdings — they are significantly underperforming the broader market, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Fund managers who continue to invest in those stocks may be doing a disservice to their clients, which would be a breach of their fiduciary responsibility.

The Washington Post reports that Yale’s chief investment officer David Swenson said last year that overhauling the university’s investment portfolio would be foolish because “we would all die” if fossil fuel production stopped. “Every one of us in the room is a consumer.” This is the same twisted logic that industry flacks use all the time to blame victims for the actions of others. It’s our fault we burn coal to make electricity, our fault we have single use soda bottles and plastic bags, our fault we vape, and our fault if carcinogens in the atmosphere make us sick.

Caleb Schwartz, a Harvard undergraduate, said no shareholder resolution could “sufficiently address the impact that Exxon has had on the climate crisis and on our politics. Ultimately, these companies need to go out of business in order for us to have a safe and livable future.”

How uncomfortable it must be for both universities to realize today’s students may actually be smarter than the people running either institution.

OK, Boomer

Several fans were upset by the disruption to the game, which would decide the Ivy League football championship for 2019. They thought football was more important than protecting humanity from extinction. For schools that pride themselves on turning out graduates with superior intellectual skills, it must be embarrassing to see their alumni acting like Clint Eastwood having a “Get off my lawn!” moment as portrayed in the 2008 movie Gran Torino.

“They’re all supposed to be intelligent people. It looks like there’s a lot of common sense that has missed their generation,” groused Chuck Crummie, age 68. “It goes to show that this generation is all about themselves and not a football game.”

Yale alum Roy Emanuelson, age 60, added his two cents. “They’re playing for the Ivy League title here, maybe costing the Ivy League championship. (Oh, the horror!) I think the end result’s unrealistic. Now if you’ve made your point, leave the field. Show your class.”

OK, boomer.

The Free Speech Charade

Yale decried the student’s actions. In a statement released by spokesperson Karen Peart, Yale said, “It is regrettable that the orchestrated protest came during a time when fellow students were participating in a collegiate career-defining contest and an annual tradition when thousands gather from around the world to enjoy and celebrate the storied traditions of both football programs and universities.”

Peart told The Washington Post that the exercise of free expression is subject to conditions on campus and that “we do not allow disruption of university events.” Apparently football is a more important tradition than a habitable planet.

Harvard spokesperson Rachel Dane said that august institution would not deign to comment directly on the protest. “Universities like Harvard have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change and Harvard is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint, and using our campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions,” she said. She did not allude to the millions upon millions of dollars Harvard rakes in from fossil fuel companies, especially Koch Industries.

The NCAA, which generates over a billion dollars a year by exploiting student athletes, did have some thing to say, however.  Spokesman Greg Johnson said the situation that occurred at the Yale Harvard game violated NCAA rules. Oh, dear. Can’t have that, can we? What will become of society if we don’t all play by the rules?

Free speech on campus means being respectful and never interrupting the important business of giant corporations like Harvard and Yale, both of which masquerade as institutions of higher learning. Heaven forfend that students should ever cause a disruption! Apparently both schools place a higher value on churning out Stepford students than people who are capable of thinking for themselves.

Climate Activism At MIT

Harvard and Yale are hardly the only institutions dealing with climate activism. Recently, Shell donated $3 million to MIT to renovate a lecture hall in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

“The significance of this is not the $3 million in and of itself, which is pennies both to Shell and, frankly to MIT,” Geoffrey Supran, an MIT alum who studies the history of global warming politics with Naomi Oreskes at Harvard told The Guardian. “The significance of this is this is part of a systemic trend – the invisible colonization of academia by the fossil fuel industry.”

Students at MIT say they are offended by the message that Shell’s name on the auditorium will send to the academic community. The department is home to both climate scientists and researchers exploring more efficient ways for drillers to extract oil and gas. Advocates at MIT have pushed for the university to divest from fossil fuels.

“Many of the things that MIT has said they would do, they haven’t done,” said Catherine Wilka, a graduate student in climate physics and chemistry. She is “frustrated with the lack of evidence we’ve seen that this strategy of constructive engagement has changed anything about the fossil fuel companies’ intended business plans for oil and gas extraction — even as the science has painted an incredibly direct picture of the consequences if we don’t transition away from fossil fuels soon.”

And that really is the point. Too many entrenched interests cannot see beyond their own pecuniary self interest to the larger issue, which is that continuing to extract fossil fuels threatens every living species on Earth with an untimely death. In the end, the student demonstrations are highly moral reactions to an entrenched system of corrupt practices.

Harvard and Yale and all other colleges and universities should remember that well behaved students rarely make history. And if their students are not intended to make history, what is the point of a university education?

 
 
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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.



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