The campaign to have college endowments divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies is set to be the next big thing among the nation’s young. The public hasn’t yet noticed, but the divestment movement has spread to 256 campuses in just the past few months. Tactics, including hunger strikes, sit-ins, and building seizures are being debated right now. An overwhelming student-body vote in favor of divestment at Harvard last November gave the movement its momentum.
When they learn of it, conservatives sometimes roll their eyes at the apparent futility of this movement. After all, selling off profitable holdings in fossil-fuel companies is only likely to hurt endowments and leave oil producers unharmed, as the stocks are snapped up by other buyers. Yet the goal here is to render fossil-fuel companies as odious as South African apartheid, which was targeted by a similar movement in the 1980s. The strategy isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. More important, whatever the narrow outcome of the campaign, fossil-fuel divestment is turning the millennial generation against America’s free-enterprise system, and in fact is designed to do so. The political implications of that are very real.
Today, the first of my three-part series on the campus fossil-fuel divestment movement is on the homepage here at NRO. Today’s piece looks at the course of the movement to date. In the second installment, I’ll examine the ideology of the divestment campaign’s key sponsors, Bill McKibben, leader of the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, and Naomi Klein, who’s work helped inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many of the students enrolled in the divestment movement don’t quite understand where McKibben and Klein hope to take them. Their partnership is an effort to forge an alliance between environmentalists and Occupy Wall Street, reshaping the American left. The third installment will be a case-study of the divestment debate at Harvard, where that student referendum turbo-charged the national campaign.
We’re likely to be hearing about the campus fossil-fuel divestment for months or even years to come. I hope to tell you what they’d rather you not know.