NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sustainability: Higher Education's New Fundamentalism

July 21, 2015

"Sustainability" is a key idea on college campuses in the United States and the rest of the Western world. To the unsuspecting, sustainability is just a new name for environmentalism. But the word really marks out a new and larger ideological territory in which curtailing economic, political, and intellectual liberty is the price that must be paid now to ensure the welfare of future generations.

Peter Wood and Rachelle Peterson of the National Association of Scholars find:

  • American colleges and universities currently spend more than $3.4 billion per year pursuing their dreams of "sustainability" at a time when college tuitions are soaring and 7.5 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed and another 46 percent underemployed
  • The appeal of the sustainability movement depends to a great extent on the belief that the world is experiencing catastrophic warming as a result of human activities that are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • The "debate-is-over" position is itself at odds with intellectual freedom and is why the campus sustainability movement should be examined skeptically.

The report offers several key recommendations:

  • Colleges and universities should be neutral in important and unresolved scientific debates.
  • Free faculty members from the implied pressure to imbed sustainability into the curricula of unrelated courses.
  • College and university boards of trustees should examine demands for divestment from fossil fuels skeptically and with full awareness of the ideological context in which these demands are made.

The growth of administrative and staff positions in sustainability drives up costs and wrongly institutionalizes advocacy at the expense of education.

Source: Peter Wood and Rachelle Peterson, "Sustainability: Higher Education's New Fundamentalism," National Association of Scholars, March 25, 2015.


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