Don’t Divest, Educate—An Open Letter to American Universities

This summer, the Center for Industrial Progress published an open letter in response to the movement at many universities, including Stanford, encouraging the divestment of university funds from companies directly responsible for fossil fuel production. In response to the experiences of students and teachers from across the country who have faced thoughtless rejection on account of their views instead of debate or at least rational argument, the letter calls for universities to respond to divestment petitions not by divesting, but by seeking to foster a greater knowledge of the realities of our energy production and environmental systems. That letter is reproduced below and can also be read in its original form here.

The Review* also interviewed Alex Esptein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress. The interview can be read here.*

Dear American Universities,

You have no doubt heard the calls by certain environmentalist groups for you to publicly divest your endowments of any investments in the fossil fuel industry. We ask that you reject these calls as an attempt to silence legitimate debate about our energy and environmental future.

The leaders of the divestment movement say it is not debatable that the fossil fuel industry is “Public Enemy Number One”—that it deserves to be publicly humiliated by having America’s leading educational institutions single it out for divestment. But the divestment movement refuses to grapple with, let alone educate students about, the staggering, and arguably irreplaceable, benefits we derive from that industry.

The fossil fuel industry produces 87 percent of the energy people around the world use to feed, clothe, shelter, heal, comfort, and educate themselves. It has fueled the unprecedented increase in industrial development, life expectancy, and quality of life we have seen over the last 30 years. And despite received wisdom about our environment and climate, our fossil fueled society has experienced a dramatic improvement in all environmental indicators worldwide, including a staggering decline in the number of climate- related deaths.

We the undersigned are proud to stand in favor of fossil fuels. Based on our honest attempt to reach a balanced, big-picture perspective on coal, oil, and gas, we passionately believe that the economic and environmental benefits of fossil fuels far outweigh the hazards, and that it is not a “necessary evil” but a moral imperative to make use of the most productive, life-giving energy sources available to us at any point in time. But unlike the divestment movement, we do not ask universities to take an official stand in our favor on this complex issue, which requires extensive education and thought—not official dogma and stigmatization.

What we ask for is a more rigorous education on energy and environmental issues. Today’s students do not learn even basic facts about the energy sources that make our civilization possible. But they are encouraged to take strong policy positions on the basis of extremely speculative predictions by individuals and institutions who falsely claim to represent the conclusions of all informed scientists.

As a result, students who have not independently studied the evidence about fossil fuels often exhibit a doctrinaire and intolerant viewpoint toward dissenting opinions. For example, when one of us (Alex Epstein) spoke recently at Vassar College on the benefits and hazards of fossil fuels, the divestment movement did not publicly challenge his arguments despite being invited to do so—they staged a walkout, attempting to pressure their peers into refusing even to hear an “unacceptable” view. To their credit, many Vassar students denounced the movement and were inspired to extensively study and debate the issues.

Universities around the country should follow their example by providing more education and promoting more debate, so that the best ideas can win out.

The undersigned scientists, philosophers, energy experts, and economists are willing to debate anytime, anywhere to defend what we believe is right. If our opponents are willing, then together we can help create a truly educated student body that takes informed positions. If our opponents will not debate but insist on securing your imprimatur to win the argument for them, then please tell them that you are an institution of education—not indoctrination.


Ralph B. Alexander, Ph.D. Former Associate Professor of Physics Wayne State University

Meredith Angwin President, Vermont Energy Education Project The Ethan Allen Institute

J. Scott Armstrong, Ph.D. Professor, University of Pennsylvania Co-founder of the International Institute of Forecasting Author of Principles of Forecasting

H. Spencer Banzhaf, Ph.D. Professor of Economics Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Georgia State University

Gregory A. Benford, Ph.D. Professor, Physics & Astronomy University of California, Irvine

Andrew Bernstein, Ph.D. Author, The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire

Edwin X. Berry, Ph.D., Physics AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist

Samuel Bostaph, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Economics University of Dallas

Robert Bradley, Jr., Ph.D. CEO, Institute for Energy Research

F. Paul Brady, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Physics University of California, Davis

Jan L. Breslow, M.D. Fredrick Henry Leonhardt Professor, Rockefeller University Head Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism Senior Physician Rockefeller Hospital

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis

William N. Butos, Ph.D. Professor of Economics Trinity College, Hartford

Jeremy Carl Research Fellow Hoover Institution Stanford University

Robert M. Carter, Ph.D. Chief Science Advisor International Climate Science Coalition

Ian Clark, Ph.D. Professor, Earth Sciences University of Ottawa

Frank Clemente, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Social Science Penn State University

Jeffrey Conopask, Ph.D. Regulatory Economist Consulting Economist Energy Economist Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative

Donn Dears Power For, Energy expert, author and retired GE Company Senior Executive

Eric Dennis, Ph.D. Senior Fellow Center for Industrial Progress

Roger Donway Senior Research Fellow Institute for Energy Research

Nicholas Drapela, Ph.D., Chemistry Retired Senior Faculty Oregon State University Inventor, Business Owner

John Droz, Jr., Ph.D. Physicist, Founder of Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions (AWED)

Michael J. Economides, Ph.D. Prof. of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Cullen College of Engineering University of Houston

Ross B. Emmett, Ph.D. Professor of Political Economy and Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, James Madison College Michigan State University

Jon Entine Senior Fellow, Center for Health & Risk Communication George Mason University Senior Fellow, Statistical Assessment Service George Mason University Founder, Executive Director, Genetic Literacy Project

Alex Epstein President, Center for Industrial Progress

Peter Ferrara White House Office of Policy Development President Reagan

Martin Fricke, Ph.D. Fellow, American Physical Society

Gordon J. Fulks, Ph.D., Physics Mission Research Corporation and Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research of the University of Chicago

Rodger L. Gamblin, Ph.D., Physics Inventor, Dayton, OH

Ulrich H. Gerlach, Ph.D. Physicist and Professor Vice Chair of Mathematics, OSU

Paul J. Gessing President, Rio Grande Foundation

Ivar Giaever, Ph.D. Nobel Laureate 197 CTO Applied BioPhysics, Inc.

Steve Goreham Executive Director Climate Science Coalition of America

Laurence I. Gould, Ph.D. Professor of Physics, University of Hartford

William Happer, Ph.D. Professor of Physics Princeton University

Steven F. Hayward, Ph.D. William E. Simon Distinguished Visiting Professor Pepperdine University School of Public Policy

David R. Henderson, Ph.D. Research Fellow Hoover Institution Stanford University

Mark W. Hendrickson, Ph.D. Peter Holle Founding President Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Steven Horwitz, Ph.D. Professor of Economics St. Lawrence University

Martin Hovland, Ph.D., MSc, FGS Professor Emeritus

James L. Huffman, Ph.D. Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School

Gary Hull, Ph.D. Director, VEM, Duke University Durham, NC

Kevin P. Kane President, Pelican Institute for Public Policy

M. L. Khandekar, Ph.D. Expert Reviewer 2007 Climate Change IPCC-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Alan Charles Kors, Ph.D. Henry Charles Lea Professor of History University of Pennsylvania

David R. Legates, Ph.D., Climatology AMS Certified Consulting

Bryan Leyland, MSc, FIEE(rtd), FIMechE, FIPENZ

Richard S. Lindzen, Ph.D. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Emeritus, MIT

Anthony R. Lupo, Ph.D. Professor, Atmospheric Science University of Missouri

James Macdonald Retired Chief Meteorologist for the Travelers Weather Service

Tibor R. Machan, Ph.D. R. C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise Argyros School of Business & Economics Chapman University

Richard Marrus, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Physics University of California, Berkeley Fellow, American Physical Society

John M. Martinis, Ph.D. Professor of Physics University of California Santa Barbara

Henry I. Miller, M.D. Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy & Public Policy Hoover Institution Stanford University

Andrew P. Morriss, Ph.D. D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Jones Chair in Law The University of Alabama School of Law

Michael C. Munger, Ph.D. Director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program Duke University

Deroy Murdock Senior Fellow Atlas Economic Research Foundation

Iain Murray Vice President Competitive Enterprise Institute

Russ Nieli, Ph.D. Princeton University

C. Kenneth Orski Editor/Publisher Innovation NewsBriefs

Mark J. Perry, Ph.D. Professor of Finance and Business Economics University of Michigan-Flint

Ned S. Rasor, Ph.D. Consulting Physicist, Kettering, Ohio

George Reisman, Ph.D. Pepperdine University Emeritus Professor of Economics Author, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics

John E. Rhoads, Ph.D., PE Wichita Falls, Texas

Matt Ridley, Ph.D. Foreign Honorary Member American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Berol Robinson, Ph.D. Association of Ecologists for Nuclear Energy

David W. Schnare, Esq., Ph.D Director, Environmental Law Center American Tradition Institute

Roger Scruton, Ph.D. Senior Scholar, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington

Michael Shermer, Ph.D. Adjunct Professor, Chapman University Adjunct Professor, Claremont Graduate University

Nicholas Siefert, Ph.D. Professor, Power Plant Design, Carnegie Mellon University Mechanical Engineer, Department of Energy

Brian P. Simpson, Ph.D. Professor National University School of Business and Management San Diego, CA

S. Fred Singer, Ph.D. Physicist and Professor Emeritus University of Virginia

David T. Stevenson Director, Center for Energy Competitiveness Caesar Rodney Institute

Bruce Thornton, Ph.D. Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University Professor of Classics and Humanities Fresno, California

Frank J. Tipler, Ph.D. Professor of Mathematical Physics Tulane University New Orleans, LA

Jeffrey Tucker Distinguished Fellow Foundation for Economic Education

David G. Tuerck, Ph.D. Executive Director, The Beacon Hill Institute, Professor and Chairman, Department of Economics, Suffolk University

Richard Vedder, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus, Ohio University

Peter Wood, Ph.D. President, The National Association of Scholars

David Zetland, Ph.D. Senior Water Economist Wageningen University (Netherlands)

Robert Zubrin, Ph.D. President Pioneer Astronautics
Bob Zybach, Ph.D., Environmental Sciences Program Manager,

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