Not in My Backyard: Former MICA leaders oppose “Vassar Loves Fossil Fuels” drive

Like many Vassarians, we were excited by the overnight deluge of notifications that Alex Epstein, President of the for-profit think tank “Center for Industrial Progress,” would be lecturing at the College this Friday on the virtues of fossil fuel. However, that excitement evaporated once we learned that Epstein and his Center were not aliases for Sacha Baron Cohen.

As former presidents of the Moderate, Independent, Conservative Alliance (MICA), the sudden formation of the “Vassar Loves Fossil Fuels” (VLFF) campaign struck us as peculiar. In the past, such autonomous subcommittees were formed by large groups of interested members and associates during major campus events with much intra-organization discussion; however, there has been little, if any, communication from the current leadership and no voting on the VLFF campaign, its tactics, or the choice and cost of speaker. Hence we hold that this reaction is not only misfocused but improper.

Clearly, the motive behind bringing Epstein to Vassar is to redirect the discourse. Those who have done their YouTube homework will note that throughout his many taped debates and lectures, he recycles the argument that, paraphrased, because fossil fuels helped create our modern society, we should not criticize their harmful environmental impact. Underpinning Epstein’s entire analysis is the Randian notion — he was a writer and fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute from 2004-2011, after all—that Earth is imperfect and that humans can perfect it through further industrialization. Given the emphasis on critical thinking at our fine College, we find it hard to imagine any Vassarian falling for the fruitless trap of conflating the divestment debate with the merits of fossil fuel’s historical role in American industrialization. While one should understand the methods by which we came to this point in our society, now is the time to reflect upon both the scientific evidence at hand and the costs and benefits of staying invested in these companies. As such, our divestment debate should be one concerned with intertemporal choice and utility maximization, not for-profit love or blind ideological hatred of fossil fuels. By allowing the discussion of this issue to be co-opted by either extreme, we lose focus on what we were actually arguing about.

More astounding is that the VLFF campaign exacerbates Epstein’s already inflammatory posture by propagating memes throughout campus that seem as if they were paid for by some shadowy Committee for a Hydrofracked Tomorrow, using rhetoric clearly designed to spark controversy (perhaps best exemplified by the campaign’s own name), and creating an artificially viral campaign—from Facebook to the literally thousands of invitations placed in campus mailboxes. VLFF seems to have received much ridicule first and generated curiosity a distant second. Any publicity campaign aimed at producing interest for an upcoming lecture should work to increase attendance and awareness, goals which ought not be eclipsed by setting up straw men before the speaker even sets foot on campus, no matter how controversial his or her platform, though one must question why a more legitimate and respectable speaker was not found. Furthermore, such tactics and subsequent negative public perception have consequences, not the least of which is further ossifying extremes and estranging individuals attempting to navigate the now-hazardous spectrum of thought in between the poles.

In fact, none of the many legitimate criticisms of divestment require the vitriol or absurd theatre of VLFF. For example, VSA Vice President for Finance Alexander Koren and Miscellany News Contributing Editor Aashim Usgaonkar addressed the economic realities and negative impacts to financial aid and faculty salaries likely to result from divestment in “Fossil fuel divestment leads to lose-lose scenario for VC” (Miscellany News, 2.20.2013). Other dispassionate critiques include the myriad bankruptcies affecting the photovoltaic power industry—famously Solyndra and more recently Suntech, the world’s largest producer of solar panels; the lack of serious consideration of nuclear energy in the divestment proposal; the difficulties of storing intermittent power to supply grids; and the fact that many major corporations named in the proposal’s “List of Initial Companies” to divest from are responsible for much private sector funding of renewable and alternative energy projects, including the corporation at the top of the list, BP, which, for example, recently invested $800 million in a Kansas wind farm project as part of an energy consortium.

As opponents of both the current divestment campaign and VLFF, who are cognizant of the financial aid limitations future students might face without a sustainable endowment to support their education as well as the dangers of unaddressed climate change, we believe that informed and constructive campus discussion can still occur in a rational, respectful, and inclusive manner. Moreover, we lament that the VLFF’s leadership—as its organizational support is very questionable—favors circus and controversy over engendering such debate and discourse. But most of all, we lament the $2,430 price tag on Alex Epstein’s lecture, since we could have just ironically reserved one of the biggest rooms in Standard Oil—er, Rockefeller Hall—to mock his YouTube videos for free.

 

—Jeremy Bright ’11 and Will Serio ’13 are former Presidents of the Moderate, Independent, Conservative Alliance (MICA).

9 Comments

  1. “While one should understand the methods by which we came to this point in our society, now is the time to reflect upon both the scientific evidence at hand and the costs and benefits of staying invested in these companies. As such, our divestment debate should be one concerned with intertemporal choice and utility maximization, not for-profit love or blind ideological hatred of fossil fuels. By allowing the discussion of this issue to be co-opted by either extreme, we lose focus on what we were actually arguing about.”

    Well, what ARE you arguing about? You do realize the extent to which fossil fuels are currently being utilized by you in the moment of activating a computer to reply to this post, don’t you?

    If YOU want to stop using fossil fuels, well, you are at liberty to do so. You’ll probably have to go live a hermit’s life in a wood shack built with logs that just fell over on their own, of course. Good luck with that.

    You know, if man really could change the CLIMATE, we’d already have done it. There’d be rain in drought-stricken areas, and snow on demand for Christmas Day for the kids, etc. Guess what? We can’t change the climate. What we can do is make intelligent use of raw materials to make the vagaries of climate as close to irrelevant as possible. Irrigate, make fake snow and enjoy climate-controlled buildings that are warm in winter, cool in summer. If you want to “get beyond” fossil fuel dependency, support nuclear energy for all you are worth.

  2. A long rant about how you’re appalled someone could view fossil fuels favorably and that they use tactics that get people thinking about their event. Nope nothing suspicious about that.

  3. “Clearly, the motive behind bringing Epstein to Vassar is to redirect the discourse.” – Isn’t that the goal of anyone who gives a lecture presenting their ideas? What are you babbling about?

  4. You stated that Epstein’s argument is that “we should not criticize [fossil fuel’s] harmful environmental impact”. He never states such a thing. His major point is to discuss the benefits of fossil fuel, which gets lost in any debate between those who focus only on the costs (which, it seems, are the only voices you want to hear in this debate).

    And if you don’t believe that “that Earth is imperfect and that humans can perfect it through further industrialization”, what do you believe? The Earth without industrialization is a pretty miserable place for human life.

  5. Alex does not say that “because fossil fuels helped create our modern society, we should not criticize their harmful environmental impact.”

    What he does is use the historical record of industrialization and its positive impact on human life to *ILLUSTRATE* a principle. What is an “environment,” anyway? The environment I live in consists of buildings and electricity and cars and such, that is *MY* environment. The argument is that this environment is far better *FOR HUMANS* than an environment without those things *despite* the ‘harmful impacts’, and those things are not possible without fossil fuels.

    In order to get cleaner air, would you shut down all coal plants and ban the refinement and burning of oil? Do you have *any idea* what sort of world that would be like? Alex tries to illustrate this by pointing out how many things that are taken for granted are made possible with fossil fuels because the ignorance involved on the other side of the argument is beyond staggering.

    • The other side only looks at the ‘harmful impacts.’

      Take all of your ‘harmful impacts’ and stack them against all the POSITIVE impacts on humans, if you can. And then tell me it isn’t worth it. If you’ve succeeded in identifying and measuring the positive impacts, that stack will tower over the ‘harmful impacts’ like the tallest building in the world next to a mud hut.

      If you want to ‘maximize utility’, you have to define and measure ‘utility’ properly first!

  6. propagating memes throughout campus that seem as if they were paid for by some shadowy Committee for a Hydrofracked Tomorrow

    *Handwave* *Handwave* pay no attention to these ideas, they are dangerous “memes”!

    Bright and Serio are downright panicking here.

  7. “Those who have done their YouTube homework will note that throughout his many taped debates and lectures, he recycles the argument that, paraphrased, because fossil fuels helped create our modern society, we should not criticize their harmful environmental impact”

    This is a dishonest characterization of one of his arguments, and it doesn’t reflect anything like a complete set of his arguments.

    “we could have just ironically reserved one of the biggest rooms in Standard Oil—er, Rockefeller Hall—to mock his YouTube videos for free.”

    Paging Saul Alinsky to this thread

  8. I want to begin this by stating that this is not an endorsement of Epstein or his ideas; this is merely a criticism of the rhetoric employed in the article above.

    No honest arguments against Epstein’s views were given unless one counts calling them, “extreme”, (as if that word alone, void of any evidence against him or his ideas, is surely an indictment) and yet they are treated as if they are ridiculous. The entire article appears to be a shallow attempt at intimidation towards those who may be interested in what Epstein has to say, for example, “Given the emphasis on critical thinking at our fine College, we find it hard to imagine any Vassarion falling for the fruitless trap of conflating the divestment debate with the merits of fossil fuel’s historical role in American industrialization”. I call it shallow because the article lacks any actual content whatsoever regarding the merits or lack thereof of his ideas, not to mention the fact that said conflation has never been committed by Epstein. I will concede that Epstein does refer to the proud history of industrialization often, but the core of his argument is that right now, at this very moment in time, it is by far the better option for humanity to protect the freedom of every individual from coercion and as such allow them the right to pursue whatever energy they deem to be the best via voluntary interaction in the marketplace.

    If you are attempting to make the argument that his arguments are wrong, it is a writer’s job to make them, not merely display resent for them while failing to identify what it is or why they are resented. This article amounts to, “I don’t like him! You shouldn’t either!” As a writer, this should be, at most, a minor element of what is said. Are we supposed to take this all on faith? What happened to the “critical thinking” that is emphasized at Vassar college? First and foremost, a writer’s job is to present facts. Even if the goal is primarily to spread opinion, one can only convincingly do so on the basis of facts. Calling Epstein “extreme” is not enough of a reason to be against him. Criticizing the methods by which he or others choose to bring his ideas to the marketplace does not constitute a criticism of his ideas. You have an obligation as a writer to promote those that are uninformed about the ideas of which you speak beyond their ignorance. Considering the lack of information provided as well as the disinformation and unnecessary arguments from intimidation, you have failed on that obligation.

Leave a Reply to Jon Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *