These opinions fly in the face of all respectable, empirical, experimental evidence gathered on the topic, so I won’t spend much time trying to debunk them. I will mention that the spokesperson for this campaign, Alex Epstein, holds a philosophy degree from Duke University, and heads the Center for Industrial Progress, a “think-tank” that keeps its donors anonymous. Taken in concert, these facts suggest that Epstein has no standing as an environmental or energy researcher, and is probably paid quite a bit of money by groups such as Koch Industries or Donors Trust to hold the views he espouses.
Epstein and his followers assert that because some have benefitted from fossil fuels we are not allowed to critique their repercussions. In doing so, NO-GO denies the terror and destruction that fossil fuels wreak every day. When we at Divest VC speak of environmental atrocities, we speak of the Valero oil refineries built within feet of Latino communities in Texas, the mountaintop removal sites that hold poor communities in Appalachia hostage, and the intrusion of the Keystone XL Pipeline and all of its carcinogens, mutagens, and neurotoxins into American Indian reservations.
Another example of this was when a group of anti-pipeline protesters traveled to Manchester, a community in Houston that had been invaded by three gas and oil refineries, as well as an 18-track-wide coal transport railway. The protesters were unable to go more than a few hours without dizziness, nausea, cluster headaches or nosebleeds. Residents said that these symptoms had become a fact of life ever since the arrival of the fossil fuel industry. It is not a coincidence that these communities have fallen prey to such abuse. This kind of exploitation is institutionalized. It is called “environmental racism,” which is the systematic targeting of marginalized communities by industry and government for environmentally harmful actions such as energy extraction, energy refinement, and waste disposal.
Why does this happen? Government and industrial decision-makers target these communities because they have no political, economic, or social recourse. They cannot say, “Not in my backyard,” because the repercussions of doing so can destroy their families. In most of these communities, citizens are subject to surveillance and coercion by private security and federal police. If they speak out, they are fired. If they protest, they are arrested. Those who do not have legal status face deportation. Often, they are bribed into silence with scholarships and bottled water. All of this is kept hidden by mass media that financially rely upon the fossil fuel industry.
This predation on frontline communities—those directly impacted by environmental racism—leaves a gaping hole in our dialogue. As environmentally privileged individuals, most of us at Vassar are more focused on saving boreal forests and fertile farmland than we are on the quality of the our air or the water from our taps.
In light of MICA’s decision to oppose divestment, it is important to own up to that fact and remember that divestment is a political tactic whose goal is justice. Racist, ethnocentric attitudes are inextricable from environmental exploitation, and the former must be brought to light before the latter can be addressed. Climate justice means solidarity and allegiance with frontline communities. It means accepting a definition of the environment that extends beyond our own experience. It means moving forward with an understanding of who is affected by environmental decisions and what we can do to bring their interests to the forefront.
Divestment is about climate change, conservation, and alternative energy. However, more than anything, it is about justice. Until anyone from MICA or NO-GO can look my frontline friends in the eye and say in clear conscience that the fuel causing their cancers, nosebleeds, and cluster headaches is a good thing, I don’t believe they’re ready to take a stance on the issue.
—Noah Bogdonoff ‘14 is co-coordinator of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. These words are not necessarily reflective of the group’s opinion as a whole.