Georgetown’s board of directors decided to end the university’s direct investment of endowment monies in coal this summer. Over the past few months, Georgetown University Fossil Free has committed itself to divesting the rest of our endowment from fossil fuels. Employing charged rhetoric and exaggerated cautionary tales, it claims in its campaign statement that it is “unconscionable to pay for our education with investments that will condemn the planet to climate disaster.” It cites the poor and disenfranchised and our Jesuit tradition as reasons to act. So, for the sake of their argument, it is about time we start talking about the poor.

More than a billion people lack electricity in the world. Living in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, these people are the ones who need fossil fuels the most. Over the last 30 years, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty by providing cheap and easy access to energy, powered overwhelmingly by coal.That’s how a nation with 90% extreme-poverty transformed itself into a world superpower. A sincere environmental activist would further acknowledge that one way to pivot away from coal is through hydraulic fracturing of natural gas — but most in the movement oppose this too. These idealistic champions of the environment seem to think that the world’s energy production, made up of 90 percent fossil fuels, can be satisfied by a few windmills in Kansas.
According to The Washington Post, China completes a new coal plant every eight to 10 days — “divesting” from coal will make absolutely no difference as long as the world’s largest nation of more than one billion people fails to join us. If the United States acts alone, we will potentially decimate American coal production and, by extension, outsource all of it to China, thus catapulting the so-called climate crisis to even larger proportions and destroying thousands of American jobs and livelihoods. And forget international agreements — the United States has already cut carbon emissions more than any other world power for nearly 10 years, while China roars ahead with limited concessions.

Upcoming climate negotiations in Paris are expected to cost the American taxpayer over $70 billion annually according to a recent American Action Forum report, all in an effort to reduce global temperatures by less than two-tenths of a degree by 2025. When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan in 2014, estimates found that Americans’ electric bills could increase by a total of $366 billion as a result. While the rich spend less than 10 percent of their income on energy, the poorest Americans spend nearly 78 percent of their income on utilities. Increasing energy costs with expensive clean alternatives would hurt the very communities hardest hit in today’s economy. Our robust industrial world demands that we prepare for the effects of climate change by adapting through innovation and economic development instead of trying to prevent the unknown. In fact, adaptation was exactly what transpired after the Medieval Warm Period beginning in the ninth century and the devastating winters of the early 1300s – in other words, our Earth has been through this before. Especially after the author of a 1975 Newsweek article now admits atmospheric scientists wrongly believed in global cooling, it seems wise not to spend precious capital on the next climate forecasting faux pas.

Sadly, many fair-minded Americans might wrongly view Pope Francis’ statements as a validation of the climate activists’ position. While Pope Francis most certainly speaks with authority on moral and theological issues vexing our time, his science is up for debate. His views on the scientific method have no place in the religious corridors of power. I would hope that he reconsiders his strategy of demonizing those in the fossil fuel industry and instead urges Catholics here and abroad to care for the environment in the best way we know how — in our local communities, not within pages of burdensome red tape. The same capitalistic system the pope dismisses is precisely the one that lifted millions out of poverty with synthetic fertilizers derived from fossil fuels, which assist in the growth of the vast majority of the world’s food supply. The Church tells us that it does not “presume to settle scientific questions,” but yet is the same church that condemned Galileo for heresy and continues to posit climate change falsehoods to this day.

While President Barack Obama has convinced himself that climate change is our gravest national security threat while Iran is ascending and terrorism is growing, one is compelled to ask him and his party if they are truly willing to risk economic suicide to save one polar bear in the Arctic or a pair of quiver trees in South Africa. America’s future lies in their answer.

 

Michael Khan is a sophomore in the College. Mr. Right appears every other Tuesday.

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7 Comments

  1. "Mr. Right" is Mr. Wrong says:

    Michael Kahn could not have gotten this more wrong. He does not seem to understand climate changeor the environmental injustices created by the fossil fuel industry.

    “…one is compelled to ask [President Obama] and his party if they are truly willing to risk economic suicide to save one polar bear in the Arctic or a pair of quiver trees in South Africa.”

    Kahn completely ignores his point of “talking about the poor” — yes there are environmental and ecological arguments to be made for divestment, and larger environmental action in regards to biodiversity and ecosystems, but his statement undermines GU Fossil Free’s entire argument for social and environmental justice. Obama and environmental activists are not fighting for ‘one polar bear’ they are fighting for the existence of humanity and all life on this Earth. Individuals who are poor and are minorities are disproportionately negatively affected by climate change and by the fossil fuel industry. If you are interested in helping the poor, why are you suggesting we inflict even more harm on these communities?

    For the sake of YOUR argument “it is about time we start talking about the poor.” You mention that “Over the last 30 years, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty by providing cheap and accessibly easy to energy, powered overwhelmingly by coal.” Is this the right thing to do in other nations still struggling for electricity and basic human necessities now or in the future? China, if you are not aware, is the largest polluter of GHG emissions. Much of their population lives in polluted environments and many people are still stuck in poverty. Just because fossil fuels were used by many of today’s developed nations does not mean that we have to use old technology for today’s developing nations to grow too. You have a closed-minded opinion on what development and growth really means, while ignoring the realities of what would happen if we burn all of the carbon environmentalists are fighting to keep under the ground.

    As a side note: your article really lacks proper citation and I really can’t take you seriously when you write: “These idealistic champions of the environment seem to think that the world’s energy production, made up of 90 percent fossil fuels, can be satisfied by a few windmills in Kansas.”

  2. Finditkindafunny says:

    “…while Iran is ascending and terrorism is growing, one is compelled to ask him and his party if they are truly willing to risk economic suicide to save one polar bear in the Arctic or a pair of quiver trees in South Africa. America’s future lies in their answer.”

    Well you’ve just missed the point entirely haven’t you.

  3. Mr. Khan, a sophomore, is incredibly, arrogantly confident that he knows better than not only President Obama and the Pope (both of whom have had access to top-notch scientific expertise) as to what is the reality of climate change, but that despite the global scientific consensus about the extremity of our circumstances, the grave concerns of national, regional and municipal governments around the world, the hundreds of major corporations (including banks and insurers) which are rallying to address the crisis, the educational institutions and institutional investors which are virtually unanimous in agreement on how unprecedented is the threat we face, nonetheless the topic is “up for debate.”

    Any country you could cite which has a population of impoverished peoples needing access to fuel and electricity will have representatives once again at the climate negotiations who will be desperately hoping for an outcome which is not so weak that catastrophic consequences for citizens and environment are inevitable. China is among those countries, having committed to emissions reductions as major as those of any country, and to reductions in coal usage which are already affecting exports elsewhere.

    The fact is that alternative energy sources are now so inexpensive that the major obstacle to scaling up widespread usage is energy storage capacity – a hurdle which can and will be overcome. Microgrids connected to solar panels are already being installed in places previously lacking electricity such as rural Kenya. In the U.S., the Sierra Club has had tremendous success with obtaining commitments for shutting down coal-fired power plants, exactly because the renewable-energy alternatives are now cost-competitive. A major transition is underway, and stakes in fossil-fuel companies are increasingly poor investments as a consequence. Mr. Khan disparages “exaggerated rhetoric,” but a number of his own assertions are prime examples of that.

  4. While I disagree with much of what Mr. Khan writes, he does bring up a valid point: that while solar and wind might be the electricity of choice in the future, the fact is that here and now, the vast amount of new electricity generation added in developing countries is coal, the cheapest and easiest form of electricity for them (not counting externalities.) Environmentalists would do well to tackle this problem head on instead of dismissing it. Yes, there are still poor people in China, but I think you will find very few people who will say China is not better off now than it was forty years ago.

    But I think the answer is already upon us. “Mr. Right is Mr. Wrong” is right that we don’t have to do the same old same old everywhere. Utility scale solar without subsidies is already the cheapest form of electricity in a number of places. The economic argument for solar and other renewables will only be strengthened in the future with the increasing efficiency of these new technologies.

  5. A Guy in College '17 says:

    You are right. Awesome!

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