Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happy Belated Earth Global Climate Change Day

In honor of Monday being Earth Day, this is going to be a cynical report on a recent student protest at Harvard Diversity.

I was walking up Massachusetts Avenue and turning onto Church Street when I first heard the protest chants behind me. I wondered briefly what it might be all about as I met a fellow pedestrian coming the other direction. He hit me quick with his cynical wit:
"What are they protesting, higher taxes?"
Well, Harvard students weren't likely to be protesting higher taxes, so what pressing issue were they protesting?
(1) Impending wars with North Korea and Iran.
(2) Failure of assault weapons ban in Congress.
(3) High tuition costs and impossible loan burdens.
(4) Unfair federal budget cuts under the sequester.
(5) Unequal distribution of income and wealth to the Harvard top 1%.
Harvard locked the gates on the students during the last big protests, the occupy movement in the fall of 2011. I turned around to see if the gates were still open and, seeing that they were, I wandered over to see what was going on. Here's the speech I heard:

If it's still not clear, the protest was about climate change and the students want Harvard to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. That means they want Harvard to sell the stock it owns in those 200 companies and use the money to buy stock in the other 14,800 companies that merely use fossil fuel. Because, let's face it, directly or indirectly we all use fossil fuel.

Divest Harvard student leader Ben Franta sees this as a profound moral issue:
"When we think about breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, the choices we make in our lifetime are going to affect the human race profoundly for thousands of years, and that's not hyperbolic. We’re faced not just with an environmental challenge, it’s not just an economic challenge, it is a moral challenge."
But don't feel guilty that it's individuals fault for using fossil fuels, that's covered in the position paper:
"There are things that all of us can do to reduce our energy consumption and we should do these things, but it is not our fault for using fossil fuels because we have no alternative. And that is the fossil fuel industries' fault."
But it's not like these Harvard students have to use fossil fuels to heat their dorm rooms, Harvard was perfectly happy to let them sleep outdoors for several months back in 2011, and they can all walk to class. I thought maybe that's where they were going with their rousing chant:
"One, we are the movement. Two, we want divestment. Three, we will not stop, we have the power!"

But, no, they only wanted to deliver a petition to Drew Faust, President of Harvard University. You see, Students for a Just and Stable Future, who are organizing the Divest Harvard campaign, do not sleep on the ground. Been there, done that, got too cold, I'm guessing.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't like to give those fossil fuel companies any more money than I absolutely have to. I left my Jeep parked for 3 months this winter. Didn't drive it a mile. OK, couldn't drive it a mile until I got the battery drain fixed. I wonder if the flashlight under the blanket effect of CO2 emissions might be causing my sleep problems.

My self-directed retirement plan had some stock in BP, and I divested the small odd lot at $44.58 per share after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I bought an even fewer number of shares in Google at $608.95 per share. BP now trades at around $41.60 and Google at $807.90 so that was a good trade. I would be happy to go over what the 199 other companies have each done wrong and consider further divestment if my retirement plan owns stock in any of them, but neither Divest Harvard nor Students for a Just and Stable Society have even so much as a list of the 200 companies they want Harvard to divest on their websites.

I did go to one of those websites that let you calculate your carbon footprint and found I use 15.24 metric tons of CO2 per year. I also found there that I could offset my carbon footprint by donating $229.51 for reforestation in Kenya or $306.01 including 20% VAT to plant tress in the United Kingdom. By all means, let's include the 20% value added tax.

Divest Harvard claims that 200 people attended their rally on April 11. You'll have trouble finding that many people in my video or in their pictures. But let's take them at their word. At the $58,000 tuition and board for next year, those 200 students represent $46.4 million to Harvard over 4 years of college. Did you notice how polite the Harvard Police in the video were? The Harvard endowment is even hiring a Vice President for Sustainable Investing.

You see, I know from their inflated crowd number that they are liars and exaggerators, their sympathizers at the Harvard Crimson only counted a still very generous 100, but here is what they want me to believe:
(1) Global warming and CO2 levels are problems that need solving now.
(2) There are cost-effective solutions that will work.
(3) The proposed solutions won't create even greater problems.
(4) Europeans didn't invent this to hamstring the American economy.
(5) It's not a trick to export industrial jobs to developing nations.
(6) Marxists aren't using this to introduce a global command economy.
(7) It's not a hedge fund scheme to scoop up energy stocks on the cheap.
(8) A better technological solution won't come along if we wait for it.
(9) It's not already too late.
Call me Ishmael, but I'm not ready to go back to hunting whales to light my evening reading. I've been watching Revolution on my HDTV. I'm a little curious what's under those polar ice caps, aren't you? The Iraq War could have been solved a few years later with two or three drone strikes. Now, if you want to replace the income tax and payroll tax with a carbon tax, we can talk.

OK, that's a bit of hyperbole but Ben Franta couldn't resist either:
We have the opportunity today, and the privilege, of fighting, not just for our future, but also for our past. For our future, we are called to fight for the great, great grandchildren that we will never meet. And for our past, we are fighting for our long history on this planet – all of the art, all of the music, all of the values and societies that we have ever created on earth, and all of our experience in 200,000 years of history on earth and everything that represents.
I can't help asking, in light of all that has happened in greater Boston in the last 10 days, is that hyperbolic rhetoric or fanaticism? I don't want to fight for all of the "all of the values and societies that we have ever created on earth." I can think of quite a few values and societies that I would like to fight against. For a just and stable future, maybe we should divest a few Harvard students. It's the dropouts like Gates and Zuckerberg that really make good.

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