NO-GO campaign ignores social harms of fossil fuels

In a recent email to the VSA and other student groups, the Moderate, Independent & Conservative Alliance (MICA) declared its intent to launch a fossil fuel investment campaign dubbed NO-GO. The crux of MICA’s argument is that anthropogenic global climate change doesn’t exist, and that fossil fuels are good for the world.

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.


  1. You said, “some have benefitted [sic] from fossil fuels”. Some? Seems as though you might benefit from attending Mr. Epstein’s talk.

  2. Any claim that “energy extraction, energy refinement, and waste disposal” are environmentally harmful ignores the fact that these processes are the very things which make a clean environment possible. How do we produce the massive amounts of energy required to sustain the growing human population? We must extract energy and use it to produce food, water, clothing, and housing. How do we keep our homes clean and sanitary? We need to dispose of waste.
    Now, it’s true that many processes which make modern life possible produce pollution. Pollution is harmful, but what is the solution? Is the solution to outlaw all forms of producing energy which produce pollution? That would eliminate all our energy sources. Even the silicon in solar panels requires intensive refining processes. Wind turbines can not be constructed on the scale necessary to reliably sustain modern life without a truly unfathomable (and ultimately unsustainable) mass of industrial construction materials. These so-called “renewables” are no solution at all. If you outlawed reliable energy, the very communities you claim are being discriminated against would be the first to starve to death (but not by any means the last).
    What is the solution to the problem of pollution?
    The solution is to enforce property rights. If you have a right to your property, you can decide whether you wish to allow a company to spew pollution around your property. Now, it’s true that restrictions on immigration rights can interfere with this tort process, but the solution is not to destroy the companies which cause pollution. These companies make the lives of their employees possible by giving them an opportunity to sustain themselves and their families. They also make their lives possible by producing the incalculable value of affordable energy, which makes the plentiful air conditioning, heating, and clean food and water they enjoy possible.
    You claim that “some have benefited” from fossil fuels. The fact is that everyone on the face of this planet has benefited from fossil fuels and that all those in industrialized nations are being kept alive and prosperous because of the continued use of fossil fuels.

    • True that many have benefited, but the instant one acknowledges that (a) they’re not sustainable and (b) burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the fact that we depend upon them so heavily becomes a major problem rather than something positive.

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