Bill McKibben – journalist, gadfly, Bernie Sanders supporter, and briefly an inmate of Washington, D.C.’s Central Cell Block – is one of America’s foremost environmental activists. As the founder of an organization known as “350.org,” he leads a global network of climate change zealots who believe that persecuting energy companies involved in the production of fossil fuels is necessary to achieve “climate justice.”
Specifically, 350.org supports “divestment”: a coordinated refusal on the part of individual, institutional, corporate, and governmental investors to possess or acquire shares in companies that produce fossil fuels. The goal is to “revoke the social license of the fossil fuel industry,” which presumably means driving these companies out of business.
“It has become a rogue industry,” according to McKibben, “reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.”
Translation: obey McKibben, or potentially everyone dies. Bill McKibben is not one for understatement.
Thus far, McKibben has not suggested that those who use fossil fuels should be condemned, boycotted, or targeted for divestment, although the logic of his puritanical opposition to fossil fuels suggests that this may come later after the chief climate criminals, in his eyes, are brought to heel. Lying behind McKibben’s environmentalism is a form of Sanders-style socialism, disguised as “social justice” and “equity.”
In addition to divestment, 350.org supports lawsuits against energy companies (which I have written about previously), based on their alleged responsibility for climate change. According to the organization’s website, “Fossil fuel companies – and their lies and lobbyists – are to blame for the climate crisis we’re in and it’s high time they’re held to account.”
Never mind the fact that global carbon emissions come from a wide variety of sources, both natural and man-made, and the American energy companies that are the chief targets of climate change litigation are responsible for only a fraction of total emissions. Never mind the fact that consumers of fossil fuels are arguably just as responsible for climate change as the companies that sell energy. Also, never mind that energy companies are crucially important to the U.S. economy and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans. McKibben and his ilk will not be deterred by simple logic. They are bound and determined to demonize energy companies as the boogeymen solely responsible for a warming planet.
Distressingly, McKibben and activists like him have persuaded some colleges, churches, charitable institutions, and municipalities to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Politically, the debate is now playing out nationwide. Outspoken liberal politicians, including some aspiring Presidential candidates, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, want to divest their respective public pension funds from fossil fuel companies for ideological reasons, while the vast majority of fund managers from both sides of the aisle disagree.
In most of these cases, financial arguments have loomed large, with the stewards of many investment portfolios arguing that spurning the high returns that fossil fuel companies offer would be both pointless and self-destructive. New York’s Democratic Comptroller believes that continued investment and constructive engagement with energy companies, to encourage them to make a gradual transition to renewable energy sources, is a better course of action than divestment. Meanwhile, the managers of California’s massive pension fund, CalPERS, have argued that divestment in general is not in the interests of the state’s current and future retirees. Financial prudence, not political correctness, should dictate investment decisions – and, when that ceases to be the case, retirement dreams are jeopardized, and local, state, and even federal budgets may be strained.
The pushback to 350.org‘s divestment campaign, even from left-leaning institutions and politicians, goes far beyond New York and California. Harvard University’s President rejected divestment, citing “our pervasive dependence on these companies for…energy.” He also pointed out that “divestment is likely to have [a] negligible financial impact on the affected companies. And such a strategy would diminish the influence or voice we might have with this industry.” Similarly, Seattle, Washington’s pension fund found no “economic justification” for divestment. Vermont’s Director of Investments described divestment as a “publicity stunt”.
As conservatives, we must hope that Bill McKibben’s master plan for obliterating the U.S. fossil fuel industry via protests, divestment, and phony lawsuits falls flat. Climate change is a serious challenge, but it is one that should be faced with reasoned public debate, sensibly crafted legislation, and steady technological progress. Dark fantasies about oil executives plotting to destroy the Earth are silliness, pure and simple. All Americans, from every walk of life, value and cherish the natural environment, and we all want to protect it for future generations. Let’s work together, therefore, to make this happen – and let’s reject the environmental extremism of Bill McKibben and 350.org.
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.