North American college campuses have always been fertile ground for embracing and popularizing novel ideas, from the revolutionary (free speech, civil rights, social networking) to the ridiculous (streaking, goldfish swallowing, phone booth stuffing).
One idea that’s making the rounds on campuses these days is fossil fuel divestment (a notion thoroughly examined in this University of Oxford research paper. College and university students are being encouraged by environmental organizations to start and support campaigns calling on their institutions to divest from fossil fuels as means of addressing climate change.
Fossil Free urges students to pressure administration to “immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years.”
Is jettisoning investments in fossil fuels really something public and private institutions of higher education should pursue?
We don’t think so. And given some basic energy requirements staring us in the face, some academics have voiced the same opinion.
The world’s growing energy needs are undeniable – humankind will continue using more energy, not less. Fossil fuels are currently the best energy source available and will likely continue to be so for years to come, given their reliability and energy density.
It’s awesome to see students who are passionately invested in our future. We need all perspectives in the energy debate, and who better to participate than those who will live with the fallout from today’s decisions?
Critics of the campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns suggest there are more effective ways for colleges and universities to address climate change. They recommend learning institutions do what they do best: create and share knowledge.
Fundamental to contributing constructively to the climate change debate is knowledge, specifically an understanding of where energy comes from now and how we’ll meet our energy needs in the future.
As mutual fund company NEI Investments explains in its take on fossil fuel divestment, any divestment strategy that ignores the measures already being taken by responsible fossil fuel companies ignores the enormous good they do for our energy system.
Whether the fossil fuel divestment campaign will get additional traction on campuses or elsewhere remains to be seen.
Rather than abandoning fossil fuels, the goal in the meantime should be to develop them as responsibly as possible, generating economic prosperity and social well-being in the process.