Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Harvard Students Pushing Fossil Fuel Divestment Are Missing

A movement has sprung up on many college campuses urging schools to divest their endowment funds of any companies that produce fossil fuels.

The protesters argue we must dramatically reduce the amount of fossil fuels used each year in order to prevent climate change. In their view, schools have a moral imperative to purge their portfolios of companies that produce such fuels.

So far 22 U.S. colleges and universities have agreed to protesters’ divestment demands. Now the multi-million dollar organizations backing the “grassroots” movement have turned their attention to high profile targets such as Harvard University.

Student activists at Harvard are leading a series of protests to pressure the university into purging its $35.9 billion dollar endowment of investments that aren’t “green” enough.

A focus on divestment accomplishes only two things. First, to the extent it has any impact on stock price (dubious), it will make fossil-fuel investments a better deal for subsequent investors since divestment does not change the demand for nor profits of selling the fuels.

Second, it will negatively impact university endowments, punishing future generations of students.

In essence, those pushing divestment want colleges and universities to play investment musical chairs where their schools volunteer to be the ones who don’t get a seat.

If students at Harvard and elsewhere are truly serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then instead of advocating for the symbolic gesture of divestment, they might consider transferring to a school closer to home.

Climate activists have long urged us to buy locally grown food to reduce our carbon footprint. The same principle could apply to colleges.

If cutting carbon dioxide is so important that it justifies sacrificing choice and quality in food, why not for education as well? Perhaps it could be called the “Learn Local” movement.

Let’s use Harvard to illustrate the point. Eighty-three percent of Harvard undergraduates come from states outside of New England. Transfer by those students to a hometown college has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on Harvard’s regional enrollment data, we estimate that undergraduate students living outside of New England burn through roughly 814,000 gallons of jet fuel flying back and forth from school each year.

By walking instead to a college in their hometown these out-of-state Harvard undergraduates could become “local-scholars” and save enough fuel to prevent about 17.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Of course, we don’t really think a “Learn Local” movement is a good idea and we don’t expect many Harvard students to transfer to a community college in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

We do fully expect them to continue pointing their fingers and telling others what to do to save the planet. Perhaps these numbers illustrate that the divestment movement is more about shifting perceived blame than anything else.


Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces: The Campus Counter-Revolution

Once upon a time (not that long ago), the west’s colleges and universities were its centers of political dissent and incubators of cultural change.

From dress and speech codes to musical trends to the defining issues of the day, students — often with the support and encouragement of more “liberal” faculty — fashioned their own new civic religion out of the catch-phrase “subvert the dominant paradigm.”

The politically active among today’s generation of college students seem hell-bent on turning that religion inside out, maintaining its outward image, form and tactics while working diligently to negate its substance.

From “trigger warnings” ahead of controversial readings or class discussions to “safe spaces” within which potentially traumatizing elements are banned altogether, the goal is conversion of campuses into hothouses, with students as delicate flowers ensconced within and protected from any hint of challenge to their cherished preconceptions.

We’ve been here before. Be it Thomas Bowdler’s “family-friendly” butcherings of Shakespeare, Anthony Comstock’s crusade against delivery of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials via the US postal system, or Tipper Gore’s demand for “Parental Advisory” labels on music, the neo-Puritan impulse cuts across our history as response to anything new, anything different, anything challenging.

Such movements are inherently conservative, and the 21st century campus version is no exception. Conservatism isn’t about the particular content of any set of ideas. It’s about protecting the established, enshrining that which exists now and protecting it from challenge or change at all costs.

If there’s a defining difference in this creeping (and creepy) new campus conservatism with its trigger warnings, safe spaces, and demands that scary, challenging speakers be un-invited to address students, it’s not the speed with which new social norms (particularly those relating to sexual mores, sexual orientation and gender identification) are adopted, but the speed with which the new norms are deemed sacred, no longer up for debate or discussion.

This is the conservatism of China’s Cultural Revolution; western college activists are its Red Guards. They are not the crowd storming the Bastille. They are the crowd cheering around the guillotine. Their demand that society accept the social changes of the last few decades as set in stone and immune to challenge is fundamentally reactionary.

Trigger warnings, safe spaces and campus speaker censorship tend neither toward advancement of good ideas nor protection from bad ideas.  Free thought and free expression, however, do serve those ends. Students: Rebel!


Australia: Former student Lamisse Hamouda says sports for girls at Al-Taqwa College wasn’t encouraged

A FORMER pupil of the Islamic school at the centre of the ban on running because it could cause girls to lose their virginity controversy has spoken out describing her time at the college as a “rollercoaster of frustrations, battles and internalising resentment”.

Lamisse Hamouda, 26, says that during her time at Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne girls were never forbidden to participate in sports, it was just never encouraged, she wrote in Fairfax media.

“If it wasn’t the insidious racism, it was the oppressive preaching of faith that rendered critical thinking lost to obedience and authoritarianism,” Ms Hamouda wrote. “As female students, we often copped the short end of the stick. Participation in sport was never outright forbidden, it was just ignored wherever possible. Lip service was paid to exercise and sports, and there was an attempt to designate a “female-only” basketball court.

“The schoolyard was strictly gender-segregated, with female students relegated to spaces of concrete and picnic tables.”

She added: “I used to joke, as a teenager, that Al-Taqwa College was run like a mini Arab dictatorship.”

Yesterday it emerged the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority had been asked to investigate claims that the principal, Omar Hallak, stopped girls from running in cross country events in 2013 and 2014.

Fairfax reported the former teacher put forward the claims in a letter this week that said: “The principal holds beliefs that if females run excessively, they may ‘lose their virginity’.”

But following the reports, Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne issued a statement denying the claims.

“Contrary to reports in the media, female students at Al-Taqwa College participate in all range of sporting activities such as track and field (including running over a range of distances, long jump, high jump, shot put, discus, athletics), basketball, cricket, hockey, tennis and netball.

“Other recreational activities on camps include low rope climbing, bush walking, archery, golf, volleyball and table tennis, as well as other indoor and outdoor activities.

“Girls are encouraged to participate in all activities, with participation subject to parental consent.

“We do not believe that running excessively may cause female students to lose their virginity or that sporting injuries could render them infertile.”

Victorian Education minister James Merlino confirmed an investigation was underway.

He said the authority had the power to force sanctions on schools and funding if investigations uncovered issues with meeting governance standards.

Islamic Council of Victoria general manager Nail Aykan said his first reaction would be to clarify the accuracy of the allegation.

“But if it was true, it’s an absurd statement and absurd thinking and has no place in our society,” Mr Akyan told news.com.au.

“If anyone thinks as such then it is pure stupidity.”

“We would ask him (the principal) to realise the absurdity of such thinking and apologise and learn from his mistake and that these types of comments are not on.”

He said these types of attitudes did not have a place in any school, public or private.

According to Fairfax, the former teacher also alleged that Mr Hallak also believed there was scientific evidence “that if girls injure themselves, such as break their leg while playing soccer, it could render them infertile”.


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