Megan McArdle explains why universities are not in a particularly righteous position when they push for divesting out of fossil fuels:
I understand that universities are exploring sustainability. Just the same, they consume huge amounts of fossil fuels: To heat and cool their buildings. To power their labs and computer networks. Maintenance and landscaping. Cooking all that food. Lighting all those rooms. Every year, they put on many large events to which people fly or drive long distances. Their students travel to and from their premises multiple times a year, rarely on foot. Their faculty fly to do research or attend conferences; many of my friends in academics have much better frequent-flier status than I could ever dream of. Their admissions officers fly hither and yon to recruit students. Their teams fly or drive to games. But you get the idea. The point is that the fossil-fuel consumption of every university in the country dwarfs the impact of their investments on climate change.
If divestment activists were serious about making a difference, setting an example, and drawing the full weight of America’s moral opprobrium onto the makers and consumers of fossil fuels, they’d be pushing a University Agenda that looked more like this:
- Require administrators, faculty, sports teams and other student groups to travel exclusively by boat and rail, except for “last mile” journeys.
- Cease construction of new buildings on campus.
- Stop air conditioning buildings, except for laboratories and archives that require climate control. Keep the heat no higher than 60 degrees in winter.
- Put strict caps on power consumption by students, keeping it to enough electricity to power one computer and one study lamp. Remove power outlets from classrooms, except for one at the front for the teacher.
- Ban meat from campus eateries and require full-time students to be on a meal plan.
- Remove all parking spots from campus.
- Stop operating campus shuttles, except for disabled students.
- Divest the endowment from fossil-fuel companies, if it makes you feel better.
Why has No. 8 jumped to No. 1? Because it’s easy. Because a group of students pushing endowment divestiture can shut down a public meeting and be rewarded with the opportunity to hold a teach-in; a group of students pushing a faculty flying ban and the end of campus parking would find the powers that be considerably more unfriendly. Not to mention their fellow students. Or, for that matter, their fellow activists, few of whom are actually ready to commit to never in their lives traveling out of America’s pitiful passenger rail network.