The Corner

Climate Movement: Spreading or Deflating?

How is the climate movement doing in the wake of the recently released IPCC report? Certainly the shutdown and the Obamacare fiasco have kept climate issues off the front pages. The report itself may even have been a downer for the movement. Story after IPCC story in the mainstream press touched on the long global-warming hiatus and the scientific uncertainty surrounding it. That can’t have been helpful for a movement that thrives on the conviction that its opponents have no legitimate case to make.

Bill McKibben is in Europe spreading his fossil-fuel divestment campaign. But how is that campaign going here in America where it began? Earlier this month, Harvard rejected the call to divest with a devastating statement decrying efforts to politicize universities, while pointing to the hypocrisy of attacking companies whose products students use every day. Two days ago, Brown University also formally rejected divestment.

We’re two months into the school year and nothing much in the way of divestment activism has been happening. Instead of railing against recalcitrant administrations, the movement seems deflated. McKibben disarmingly admits that divestment as a tactic won’t directly harm energy companies. His real goal is to use divestment as a rallying cry for a movement to force a punitive carbon tax through Congress. But how do you get people excited about a tactic that you admit won’t achieve its immediate goal?

National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood recently attended a divestment rally at the New School in New York City. The event was lackluster and sparsely attended, he reports. Wood tells me that when pressed on a plan to circulate a pro-divestment student petition, leaders seemed reluctant for fear of an unimpressive outcome. That’s shocking, given the lopsided majorities by which divestment resolutions passed in student elections last year. Student leaders at the New School seemed to think the divestment movement was planning to go all out on campuses this spring. It seems odd to allow the momentum of last spring’s divestment activism to dissipate for a full year.

It’s too early to count the climate movement out as a force on America’s campuses. At the moment, however, the campus fossil-fuel divestment campaign seems stalled. Is that a leading indicator for the failing health of the broader climate movement?

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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