Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oregon State University Should Not Abandon Profitable Investments

Ken Winograd  [“It’s wrong for OSU to profit from climate destruction”] overlooks significant details that undermine all but one part of his argument.

If OSU sells all its stock in fossil fuel industries,  it will reduce neither the sales nor the profits of those industries.  It will have no effect on the sales one way or the other, and it will simply redirect dividends and capital gains to the people who buy the stock from OSU.  The investments  purchased by the OSU Foundation to replace the divested stock will be less profitable,  or the Foundation would already have made the switch for purely economic rather than moral reasons. 

Winograd in effect concedes this point when he tells us that “the question of divestment must be shaped by moral concerns and not the bottom line.” 

Why, then,  divest?  Says Winograd:  “The goal of divestment is to stimulate a synergy of activism,  to affect a seismic shift in public opinion—that drastic changes in public policy are needed now.”  In other words,  divestment would be a massive publicity stunt! 

I would like to make a friendly suggestion about an even more dramatic publicity stunt that would actually reduce fossil fuel consumption in the U.S. and that would reduce OSU income from its fossil industry investments by a smaller amount. 

Several times a year tens of thousands of people migrate to Corvallis to attend OSU football games.  Their cars and RVs burn large amounts of gasoline.  For night games Reiser Stadium is brightly lit with floodlights that use large amounts of electricity, some of which is produced by burning coal and natural gas---fossil fuels.  When the team travels to other schools for games,  its buses or airplanes burn diesel or jet fuel—fossil fuels.   And don’t forget the electricity consumed when people run TV sets to watch televised games.   

Do you see what I am driving at?   If OSU were to abolish its football team,  it would actually reduce fossil fuel use in the United States.   It would reduce the serious brain damage that football players risk every time they take the field.   And it would also be a REAL publicity stunt.   If other universities imitated OSU,  so much the better. 

To be sure, OSU would lose the income earned by the football program,  but this will not reduce the money available for teaching and research, the core missions of a university.  

As a serious student of American politics,  culture, and higher education,  I predict that OSU will not take me up on this proposal.  We can’t push morality too far,  after all, especially when it interferes with our entertainment! 

But while we are waiting for the ecological millennium,  I hope OSU won’t dump profitable investments, reducing income that it could put to good uses educating our youth and researching greener power sources.  Winograd claims that “if it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.”  But until better energy technology is developed,  fossil fuel companies will continue to make money, and if money is going to be made anyhow it might as well go to OSU. 

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