Don’t Divest, Educate -- An Open Letter to American Universities
by Alex Epstein
June 11, 2013
Dear American Universities,
You have no doubt heard the calls by certain environmentalist groups for you to publicly divest your endowments of any investments in the fossil fuel industry. We ask that you reject these calls as an attempt to silence legitimate debate about our energy and environmental future.
The leaders of the divestment movement say it is not debatable that the fossil fuel industry is “Public Enemy Number One”—that it deserves to be publicly humiliated by having America’s leading educational institutions single it out for divestment. But the divestment movement refuses to grapple with, let alone educate students about, the staggering, and arguably irreplaceable, benefits we derive from that industry.
The fossil fuel industry produces 87 percent of the energy people around the world use to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, comfort, and educate themselves. It has fueled the unprecedented increase in industrial development, life expectancy, and quality of life we have seen over the last 30 years. And despite received wisdom about our environment and climate, our fossil fueled society has experienced a dramatic improvement in all environmental indicators worldwide, including a staggering decline in the number of climate-related deaths.
We the undersigned are proud to stand in favor of fossil fuels. Based on our honest attempt to reach a balanced, big-picture perspective on coal, oil, and gas, we passionately believe that the economic and environmental benefits of fossil fuels far outweigh the hazards, and that it is not a “necessary evil” but a moral imperative to make use of the most productive, life-giving energy sources available to us at any point in time. But unlike the divestment movement, we do not ask universities to take an official stand in our favor on this complex issue, which requires extensive education and thought—not official dogma and stigmatization.
What we ask for is a more rigorous education on energy and environmental issues. Today’s students do not learn even basic facts about the energy sources that make our civilization possible. But they are encouraged to take strong policy positions on the basis of extremely speculative predictions by individuals and institutions who falsely claim to represent the conclusions of all informed scientists.
As a result, students who have not independently studied the evidence about fossil fuels often exhibit a doctrinaire and intolerant viewpoint toward dissenting opinions. For example, when one of us (Alex Epstein) spoke recently at Vassar College on the benefits and hazards of fossil fuels, the divestment movement did not publicly challenge his arguments despite being invited to do so—they staged a walkout, attempting to pressure their peers into refusing even to hear an “unacceptable” view.
To their credit, many Vassar students denounced the movement and were inspired to extensively study and debate the issues. Universities around the country should follow their example by providing more education and promoting more debate, so that the best ideas can win out.
The undersigned scientists, philosophers, energy experts, economists, and student leaders are willing to debate anytime, anywhere to defend what we believe is right. If our opponents are willing, then together we can help create a truly educated student body that takes informed positions. If our opponents will not debate but insist on securing your imprimatur to win the argument for them, then please tell them that you are an institution of education—not indoctrination.
Ralph B. Alexander, Ph.D., Former Associate Professor of Physics, Wayne State UniversityMeredith Angwin, President, Vermont Energy Education Project, The Ethan Allen InstituteJ. Scott Armstrong, Ph.D., Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Co-founder of the International Institute of Forecasting, Author of Principles of ForecastingH. Spencer Banzhaf, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy StudiesGeorgia State UniversityGregory A. Benford, Ph.D., Professor, Physics & Astronomy, University of California, IrvineAndrew Bernstein, Ph.D., author, The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-FaireEdwin X. Berry, Ph.D., Physics, AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist, ClimatePhysics.comSamuel Bostaph, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of DallasRobert Bradley, Jr., Ph.D., CEO, Institute for Energy ResearchF. Paul Brady, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, DavisJan L. Breslow, M.D., Fredrick Henry Leonhardt Professor, Rockefeller University, Head Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Senior Physician Rockefeller HospitalH. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, National Center for Policy AnalysisWilliam N. Butos, Ph.D. Professor of Economics, Trinity College, HartfordJeremy Carl Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford UniversityRobert M. Carter, Ph.D., Chief Science Advisor, International Climate Science CoalitionIan Clark, Ph.D., Professor, Earth Sciences, University of OttawaDonn Dears Power For USA.com, Energy expert, author and retired GE Company Senior ExecutiveEric Dennis, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Center for Industrial ProgressRoger Donway, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Energy ResearchNicholas Drapela, Ph.D., Chemistry, Retired Senior Faculty, Oregon State UniversityJohn Droz, Jr., Ph.D., Physicist, Founder of Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions (AWED)Michael J. Economides, Ph.D., Prof. of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of HoustonRoss B. Emmett, Ph.D., Professor of Political Economy and Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy,James Madison College, Michigan State UniversityJon Entine, Senior Fellow, Center for Health & Risk Communication, George Mason University, Senior Fellow, Statistical Assessment Service, George Mason University; Founder, Executive Director, Genetic Literacy ProjectAlex Epstein, President, Center for Industrial ProgressPeter Ferrara, White House Office of Policy Development, President ReaganMartin Fricke, Ph.D., Fellow, American Physical SocietyGordon J. Fulks, Ph.D., Physics, Mission Research Corporation and Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research of the University of ChicagoRodger L. Gamblin, Ph.D., Physics, Inventor, Dayton, OHUlrich H. Gerlach, Ph.D., Physicist and Professor, Vice Chair of Mathematics, Oklahoma State UniversityPaul J. Gessing, President, Rio Grande FoundationIvar Giaever, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate 1973, CTO Applied BioPhysics, Inc .Steve Goreham, Executive Director, Climate Science Coalition of AmericaLaurence I. Gould, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, University of HartfordWilliam Happer, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, Princeton UniversitySteven F. Hayward, Ph.D., William E. Simon Distinguished Visiting Professor, Pepperdine University School of Public PolicyDavid R. Henderson, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford UniversityMark W. Hendrickson, Ph.D., Peter Holle Founding President, Frontier Centre for Public PolicySteven Horwitz, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, St. Lawrence UniversityMartin Hovland, Ph.D., MSc, FGS, Professor EmeritusJames L. Huffman, Ph.D., Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law SchoolGary Hull, Ph.D., Director, VEM, Duke University, Durham, NCKevin P. Kane, President, Pelican Institute for Public PolicyM. L. Khandekar, Ph.D., Expert Reviewer 2007 Climate Change, IPCC-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeAlan Charles Kors, Ph.D., Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, University of PennsylvaniaDavid R. Legates, Ph.D., Climatology, AMS Certified ConsultingBryan Leyland, MSc, FIEE(rtd), FIMechE, FIPENZRichard S. Lindzen, Ph.D., Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Emeritus, MITAnthony R. Lupo, Ph.D., Professor, Atmospheric Science, University of MissouriJames Macdonald, Retired Chief Meteorologist for the Travelers Weather ServiceTibor R. Machan, Ph.D., R. C. Hoiles Chair, Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman UniversityRichard Marrus, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley; Fellow, American Physical SocietyJohn M. Martinis, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, University of California Santa BarbaraHenry I. Miller, M.D., Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy & Public Policy Hoover InstitutionStanford UniversityAndrew P. Morriss, Ph.D., D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Jones Chair, University of Alabama School of LawMichael C. Munger, Ph.D., Director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, Duke UniversityIain Murray, Vice President, Competitive Enterprise InstituteRuss Nieli, Ph.D., Princeton UniversityC. Kenneth Orski, Editor/Publisher, Innovation NewsBriefsMark J. Perry, Ph.D., Professor of Finance and Business Economics, University of Michigan-FlintNed S. Rasor, Ph.D., Consulting Physicist, Kettering, OhioGeorge Reisman, Ph.D., Pepperdine University Emeritus Professor of EconomicsJohn E. Rhoads, Ph.D., PE, Wichita Falls, TexasMatt Ridley, Ph.D., Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and SciencesBerol Robinson, Ph.D., Association of Ecologists for Nuclear EnergyDavid W. Schnare, Esq., Ph.D, Director, Environmental Law Center, American Tradition InstituteRoger Scruton, Ph.D., Senior Scholar, Ethics and Public Policy Center, WashingtonMichael Shermer, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Chapman University, Adjunct Professor, Claremont Graduate UniversityBrian P. Simpson, Ph.D., Professor National University School of Business and Management San Diego, CAS. Fred Singer, Ph.D., Physicist and Professor Emeritus, University of VirginiaDavid T. Stevenson Director, Center for Energy Competitiveness, Caesar Rodney InstituteBruce Thornton, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Professor of Classics and Humanities, Fresno, CaliforniaFrank J. Tipler, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematical Physics, Tulane University, New Orleans, LAJeffrey Tucker, Distinguished Fellow, Foundation for Economic EducationDavid G. Tuerck, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Beacon Hill Institute; Professor and Chairman, Department of Economics, Suffolk UniversityRichard Vedder, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus, Ohio UniversityPeter Wood, Ph.D., President, The National Association of ScholarsDavid Zetland, Ph.D., Senior Water Economist, Wageningen University (Netherlands)Robert Zubrin, Ph.D., President, Pioneer AstronauticsBob Zybach, Ph.D., Environmental Sciences, Program Manager, www.ORWW.org