By Stephen Knight
On Saturday, November 23, the nation was treated to a spectacle that took place a mere 16 miles from Wallingford. The venue was the Yale-Harvard football game; the spectacle was the halftime protest of 130 students (joined by 300 others as a lark) demanding that Yale and Harvard “divest” their multi-billion-dollar investment portfolios of companies engaged in the production of “fossil fuels.”
A column printed in the Record-Journal that first appeared in the Connecticut Post has prompted a response from yours truly. Here’s a link: https://www.ctpost.com/opinion/article/Editorial-Protest-put-sports-in-proper-14864482.php.
The point of that column was to lavish praise on the students involved, suggesting that their 90-minute disruption of this sporting event was justified because “climate change is something on which lives depend.”
There are two issues I wish to address: the validity of the protest and the effectiveness of “divestiture.”
The protest itself: We have come to the point in this country where political protest for any purpose at any venue is laudable. Regardless of who it inconveniences, whose day is interrupted, whose career is jeopardized or ruined, whose health might be personally affected, the protesters are hailed as morally superior persons that are “standing up to power” or “bringing awareness” to us all.
Now, civil disobedience certainly has a special place in society, especially American society. Next month we will celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., one of our country’s most important moral leaders, for his impact on this nation and its laws. And the cause for which he and so many others fought required the awakening of the conscience of every person in our country. The incredible importance of what they accomplished certainly warranted the disruption of their protests. Not only minority members benefited from their courage. We all did — directly.
But a protest to demand “divestiture of stocks in fossil fuel companies” in order to “save the planet” does not come within light years of that standard. It doesn’t come close to justifying having 50,000 people sit for ninety minutes in the cold watching 400 coddled twenty-somethings prance around a football field urging Ivy League colleges to join their moral superiority parade by cleansing their stock portfolios of oil company holdings. Lauding the disruption over such a tangential issue as this only feeds the self-importance of those who believe that they should be running the university instead of merely attending it.
The “divestiture issue itself”: Here’s one quote from one of the organizers, one Nora Heaphy, a junior: the question is … “based on the moral implications of investing in the growth of an industry [whose] core business model is destroying the planet, the massive statement Yale would make by divesting, etc,” (https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2019/12/03/analysis-divestment-debate-continues/)
Let’s start with “…business model is destroying the planet.” I am guessing that Miss Heaphy is probably not an economics major, as she and her comrades apparently believe that destroying the supply of fossil fuels is a far superior tactic than perhaps lessening the demand for such energy. The hundreds of thousands of employees of Exxon-Mobil or Shell Oil are not plotting the destruction of the planet. They are meeting the demand for the products they produce. (By the way, Miss Heaphy, this demand includes fueling the vehicle that brought you to the Yale Bowl to perform your protest.)
This demand is enormous. In 2018, the consumption of oil alone was 1,528,800,000,000 gallons. (That’s 1.528 quadrillion gallons, or 1,528 trillion gallons). In other words, the number is almost incomprehensible.
Did the evil oil companies force all this oil down our collective throats? No. We bought the stuff. So I ask: what is the end game? By vilifying the producers of oil, are we reducing the demand? Of course not.
Where were the signs saying “Stop Driving Your Cars!!” or “Stop Flying in Airplanes!!” or “Stop Buying Stuff on Amazon!!” or “Heating Your Home is Killing the Planet!!” Instead we see a sign that reads “Yale and Harvard are Complicit in Climate Injustice.”
Speaking of justice…Would these social justice warriors please tell us how bringing shame on the producers of carbon-based energy is going the help the billions of human beings in the emerging economies build better lives? The one and only possible consequence of successfully debilitating the oil companies would be to dramatically increase the price of petroleum products.
So just when billions of Asians, Africans and South Americans are finally climbing out of centuries of poverty in large part because the availability of cheap energy has created a global economy, our economics-deprived students, in their quest to show how “woke” they are, are marching around trying to destroy the source of that energy. And that’s justice? Really?
Maybe it’s time for the American university system to have their students think this issue through a bit more before their marching about and lecturing us begins.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.