Posted by Curt on 27 May, 2013 at 8:59 pm. 3 comments already!




On February 24, the student association at Vassar College made an important decision. By a margin of 23-1, these young people passed a resolution urging their school to withdraw investment funds from fossil fuel companies.

According to a news report, a member of the Vassar Greens later declared that the vote

means we have the student body’s support behind us…We’re presenting this as something Vassar students want. [ellipsis in the original]

So what arguments were advanced by campus activists before this decision got made? A December 2012 opinion piece published in the student newspaper is a good place to start. Titled Vassar must take lead in fossil fuel divestment, it was written by three individuals – two co-presidents of the Vassar Greens as well as the person who appears to be the primary author of the divestment resolution itself.

Early on, the students tell us they’ve partnered with climate crusader Bill McKibben’s activist group. They explain that that group’s name

is derived from the safe amount of carbon, in parts per million, that can be in the atmosphere. [bold added, article backed up here]

But this is not an accurate statement. Concern over global warming is all about carbon dioxide. On the Periodic Table of Elements, carbon is represented by a C. Two-thirds of carbon dioxide is composed of another element altogether – oxygen – which is represented by an O.

C is not the same as CO2. Since the periodic table is taught in high school, it isn’t unreasonable to expect college students to understand this difference.

An additional difficulty is that 350 is merely the number on which McKibben has personally fixated. Other people have alternative opinions. For example, the 2006Stern Review – a much-criticized-for-its-alarmism report written by economists employed by the British government (see here and here) – suggests that a considerably higher number, 500-550 parts per million of carbon dioxide, is equally safe.

But those are minor points compared to what comes next. In an article intended to rally the student population to the divestment cause, we find venom and vitriol, but little persuasive argument.

Energy companies are described as “corporations that have recklessly endangered our health and put our future in jeopardy” (bolding here and below added). The fossil fuel industry, we are told,

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