Phi Beta Cons

Students Unskeptical of Sustainability

Yesterday was national Campus Sustainability Day. How did you celebrate? NAS president Peter Wood visited The New School’s Student Sustainability Festival. There he met Gnarls the narwhal (The New School’s mascot – apparently in environmental peril) and heard students and Bill McKibben, founder of, rehearse reasons for universities divesting their endowments from oil companies. Dr. Wood wrote:

McKibben’s video talk provided one fascinating final chord.  He told the students that he knows and they should know too that college and university divestment won’t hurt the energy companies at all financially.  Instead, the goal of the movement is to hurt the energy companies “politically.”  More precisely, McKibben said, “It’s not because The New School selling its stock will bankrupt Exxon. It won’t. It’s because it’s a part of the process of politically bankrupting them. We’re removing their ability to influence.”  He looked down the generational road and conjured a future in which energy companies would no longer be able to sway public opinion because today’s generation had cut off all of their moral authority.  

It was in its way a breathtakingly cynical declaration that only a charismatic leader like McKibben could dare.  In effect, he said the ostensible purpose of all this organizing — getting universities to divest — is just a ruse.  What he is really after is the hearts and minds of students, whom he would like to transform into zealous proponents of his own peculiar doctrine that combines unsubstantiated and often outlandish scientific claims with apocalyptic prophecies. 

More than 80 other colleges and universities celebrated Campus Sustainability Day or Week (McKibben said it needs to become “week, month, year, decade, century”). My colleague Rachelle DeJong notes how some other campuses commemorated the occasion: trash-habit tracking, labyrinths of recycled materials, solar-oven demonstrations, spiritual-sustainability devotionals.

Higher education is increasingly viewed by activists as the laboratory for sustainability practices. As McKibben told The New School students, “If universities don’t take this seriously, how can we expect anybody else to?” 

Students at The New School event did take sustainability seriously — or at least they showed up and calmly agreed with one another. Dr. Wood concluded:

These anemic young women and men seemed devoid of any trace of skepticism toward the just-so stories and scientific howlers that were being served up.  They blandly believed the revealed doctrines of McKibbenism in particular and sustainability in general and were ready to fan out and summon other students to the True Faith. 

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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