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An open letter to the students of UMass -

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March 22, 2017

Letter: How much difference does divestment really make?

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

To the Editors:

As the Divest UMass campaign nears victory, are they properly confronting coal powered cars? Before I clarify the purpose of that question, let me sincerely state how impressed I am by the commitment of those involved in the demonstrations on campus. The willingness to protest to the point of being arrested shows the passion of these individuals. These actions speak loudly, and undoubtedly have gained an added attention from those with the actual ability to make these changes. I would not be surprised to see the decision to fully divest in the near future.

This victory would hardly be final. The fossil fuel industry contributes enormously to the horrific pollution of our environment and to the unparalleled problem of climate change. Here I think there are some obvious actions that must proceed in due time, to decelerate the impacts of climate change.

  1.  Stop allowing gasoline powered cars on campus.
  1.  Stop the use of diesel powered buses, since diesel pollutes even more than gasoline.
  1.  Stop allowing electric cars on campus. These are essentially coal powered cars, since the burning of coal is a major producer of electricity in this country.
  1.  Eliminate Spring Break. Vacations are fossil fuel intensive.
  1.  Eliminate all air conditioning on campus. Again, significantly powered by the burning of coal.
  1.  Reduce the maximum indoor temperature for campus buildings to 55 degrees in winter.  With proper thick layered clothing for students and faculty and staff, this is absolutely doable.
  1.  Eliminate all sports programs. To travel to away games, UMass teams and visiting teams contribute greatly to the usage of fossil fuels.

Yes, the above list may be impractical, but it gives a perspective that illuminates the enormity of the fossil fuel situation here at UMass. Throughout this entire season of protests, we should remain mindful that divestment alone will not reduce the amount of fossil fuel usage by even one molecule.

On this practical side of the situation, I suggest that the Divest UMass organization should stop using any products that are manufactured by the use of fossil fuels, which of course is basically all products. The delicious irony of using these products to produce signage for their cause is easy to see. I can imagine there may be substantial cognitive dissonance as well when they use their electric powered laptops and cellphones.

Also, I suggest that Divest UMass members adapt some of the above steps in their personal lives, and use all available means of communication to let the university community know what they are doing to actually reduce their usage of fossil fuels, as examples for all of us to follow. UMass is the biggest polluter in Amherst, and one of the biggest institutions in Massachusetts. Isn’t it hypocritical to benefit from fossil fuels here and at the same time to protest UMass investment in companies that produce them?

This initial victory will be the final result of just one small battle in the larger war against the fossil fuel industry. Confrontation must continue.

David Fitzgerald, concerned UMass employee

Comments
7 Responses to “Letter: How much difference does divestment really make?”
  1. The_Chairman says:

    The fact that this gentleman actually sat down and took the time to compose this letter is just incredible. But the use of this particular form of tu quoque fallacy is always a sure sign that the opposing side is out of ammunition. Rather than argue against divestment on its merits, the author attempts to discredit the value of divestment on the actions of its proponents (which are, of course, irrelevant). Going to live off the grid in a Montana cabin isn’t a strategy for solving environmental degradation, as any sane person knows.

    On the other hand, divestment as a tactic has a history of success against other injustices, such as South African apartheid. To be clear, it probably won’t be as successful against the fossil fuel industry, which is so large that it will hardly notice if every university in the country sells its stock. But divestment would send a message to the business community and the public that the destruction of the world shouldn’t be tolerated.

  2. David Hunt 1990 says:

    Don’t forget the burning of heretics.

  3. Matt says:

    Funny, for a minute I thought you were serious.

  4. Stefan says:

    The_Chairman:

    South African Apartheid was not taken down by university endowment divestment- what minimal amount of stock sold off was immediately picked up by other investors (see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/opinion/why-divestment-fails.html?_r=0). Was it symbolic? Sure, but there was a lot more to the anti-apartheid movement, almost all of it more substantive than divestment.

    The economic pressure on South Africa came in the form of a massive array of multinational sanctions, from both the United States and other nations. In the face of a bad economic situation and a growing anti-apartheid movement within South Africa, apartheid finally fell. It honestly comes off as incredibly privileged for American college students to claim that they were the ones who took down apartheid.

  5. David Hunt 1990 says:

    @Stefan: SA has descended into a corrupt, crony-driven chaotic state vying for the title of “rape capital of the world”.

    But who cares, eh? These college students get to feel good about their intentions. That’s all that matters.

  6. David Fitzgerald says:

    Chairman,

    once you got past SA, you found the right conclusion. The f f industry won’t even notice. Your last point was particularly salient. UMass is a giant business, and divestment will send a message to themselves that they should not tolerate their own use of huge amounts of fossil fuels which of course they purchase from the very companies they are being urged to divest from. That spells hypocrisy.

  7. The_Chairman says:

    @Stefan You are absolutely right…but that isn’t what I argued at all. Not sure who here (or anywhere) is claiming that American students took down apartheid.

    What is the ultimate point of divestment? Of course the corporations carry on whether or not universities own their stock. But these symbolic actions attract media attention and raise awareness among the public. Ultimately apartheid attracted enough popular opposition that the business community–the real masters of foreign policy–couldn’t be seen to support it anymore. Again, it probably won’t work as well against the fossil fuel industry given its sheer size and power, but the alternative of doing nothing puts the species at risk.

    @David Fitzgerald Does divestment have merit as a tactic against the destruction of the environment, or is it useless/harmful? Is the environment worth protecting, or should we destroy it? Those are the issues at stake here.To some extent we’re all hypocrites, and that has nothing to do with anything. Your argument is a textbook case of appeal to hypocrisy, a particularly odious logical fallacy of the ad hominum variety, and therefore merits no response.

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