Editor’s Note: This piece is part of The Sun’s dueling columns feature. In this feature, Darren Chang ’21 and Jade Pinero ’19 debate, “Is capitalism good?” Read the counterpart column here. Today, fewer than half of young Americans support capitalism. It’s a sympathetic statistic, since young adults’ conception of the economy has been irrevocably shaped by the Great Recession, unequal wealth distribution and poor wage growth. Yet, while capitalism may not be perfect, it’s worth keeping and fixing because of the prosperity it has wrought.
In Michael Johns ’20’s May 1 column, he suggests that Cornell’s “globalist activist community,” specifically the fossil fuel divestment and BDS-inspired movement, has taken a myopic viewpoint that leads them — or, us, members of Climate Justice Cornell, in this case — to lose sight of true global justice by focusing solely on the issues at hand on campus. There is a common notion that some organizers uphold: “Do the work where you’re at.” While we’re at Cornell, this means that we, the students, can address the issues we see in the way that this institution is run. Here at Cornell, we have the power to petition the University — through literal petitioning, letter writing, rallies and the like — and we may even receive some sort of response. While the chairman of the Board of Trustees or the president of the University may reply to our emails, it’s fair to say that a Cornell student group’s request for Chinese coal plants to be shut down would be swept aside. Furthermore, as people who are not direct stakeholders to China’s energy production, it’s not our place to make suggestions — not to mention the lack of expertise of a Cornell student group in the inner workings of the Chinese energy economy and grid.
Just how global is the focus of Cornell’s globalist activist community? At first glance, it is globalist without reservation: From climate crusaders demanding the University divest from fossil fuels to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, campus progressive activists this semester repeatedly have called for Cornell to make dramatic changes to further their political vision. Cornellians certainly have the right to petition the University, and it is understandable why they would begin their activism here. President Martha Pollack, for her part, properly noted in her response to the BDS movement that “the principal purpose of our endowment is to provide income for advancing our mission-related objectives.” The endowment, she said, “must not be viewed as a means of exercising political or social power.” That is sensible logic. Of course, this will not deter activists from their quest to politicize the University endowment.
Young people across the political spectrum agree: Climate change is a serious issue. I have talked about this issue with young Republicans, Democrats and independents. A recent study showed that 85 percent of young adults ages 18 to 25, regardless of political affiliation, believe that the federal government needs to do more to support clean energy. Across the board, young voters agree that government action needs to be taken against climate change. The Youth Climate Strike held on March 15 was an excellent demonstration of the solidarity amongst young Americans on the issue of climate change.
The moral case for Cornell divesting from fossil fuels has long been clear. Simply put, the University should not hold equity in resource extraction firms that have sent the planet hurtling toward climate ruin. An overwhelming body of science tells us the fallout of human-caused climate change will come in the form of severe developing-world food insecurity, more frequent extreme weather events and worse economic growth. Projections indicate death, disease, dislocation and malnutrition will sharply rise, especially for the global poor. The cost in human misery will be enormous.
On Monday afternoon, Prof. Frank Mitloehner, animal science at the University of California, Davis, discussed the latest research surrounding animal agriculture and its “surprisingly modest” contribution to global greenhouse emissions. Mitloehner pointed at food waste as the largest contributor to environmental damage.
Climate activism icon, leader of the fossil fuel divestment movement and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben offered his advice to Cornell students passionate about taking action against university investment in fossil fuels on Wednesday evening.