A Free-Market Energy Blog

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

By -- June 11, 2013

“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.”

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, economists, and student leaders 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, ClimatePhysics.com
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
Donn Dears Power For USA.com, 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
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, 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, Oklahoma State University
Paul J. Gessing, President, Rio Grande Foundation
Ivar Giaever, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate 1973, 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, 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, University of Alabama School of Law
Michael C. Munger, Ph.D., Director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, Duke University
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
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
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, www.ORWW.org
To sign the letter, visit here.


  1. Nicholas Siefert  

    Where can we sign your petition? A friend told me about this website and your website, but I didn’t see any place on the websites to sign the petition.

    Last week, I went back to Princeton University’s reunions only to find out that there is a FF Divestment Campaign on campus. I went to their “panel discussion” during reunions. It wasn’t a “panel discussion” because there wasn’t a single person arguing that fossil fuels are good. The members of the panel were people who were already inclined to think that divestment from fossil fuels was good. The only debate between the panelists was whether to include natural gas companies in the list companies from which to divest.

    The whole thing was pretty lopsided, focusing on alarmism rather than scientific or policy debate. Luckily, there were a few people in the audience (including myself) who chimed in during the question period and made the argument that fossil fuel companies are good and deserve investment from Princeton’s endowment fund.

    While I think that there should be global caps on GHG concentrations in the atmosphere (and local caps on local pollutants such as NOx, SOx, and particulates), the idea of divesting from fossil fuel companies is silly because (a) these companies have historically provided large rates of return on investment that don’t rely on gov’t subsidies, and (b) fossil fuel companies will still provide enormous benefits to society well into the future, long after we cap global emissions of GHGs. We will have to figure out how to cost effectively capture and sequester CO2, but this is no reason to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. If anything, these companies and the companies that use fossil fuels need more capital investment in order tackle the challenge of how to capture and sequester CO2 at chemical refineries and power plants.

    Nicholas Siefert P’02, PhD, Teaching Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, Mechanical Engineering
    Mechanical Engineer, Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy


  2. Don Bishop  


    Are you sending this letter directly to universities, and their investment committees?


  3. Russell Cook  

    Thanks to Donna Laframboise for her blog alerting me to this.

    No doubt, the letter will get a backlash protest saying something to the effect that some of the signatories are ‘shill scientists’ on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry.

    My new blog, GelbspanFiles.com , along with my 3+ years’ worth of online articles ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/?page_id=86 ) details how that talking point accusation is not only baseless, it was successfully promulgated out of an enviro-activist organization circa late 1995, with its highly suspect origins at Al Gore’s Senate office circa 1991-2


  4. Putting Reality back into Energy Education | Education Reform | NCPA.org  

    […] can find the letter and list of signatories here. Print […]


  5. Tom Harris  

    I think it would be useful for anyone at universities and colleges related to, or having to respond to, the fossil fuel divestment program to read my article as follows:

    “Eight questions to ask student activists about the fossil fuel divestment campaign – How colleges and universities can turn Fossil Free campaign meetings into teachable moments”



    Tom Harris
    International Climate Science Coalition


Leave a Reply