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

June 5, 2013

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

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 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 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

Iain Murray

Vice President
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Russ Nieli, Ph.D.

Princeton University

C. Kenneth Orski

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

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

Robert Zubrin, Ph.D.

Pioneer Astronautics

Bob Zybach, Ph.D., Environmental Sciences

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