As Wesfest dawned on campus this past week, and as the admissions office was preparing to welcome perhaps the most highly qualified class Wesleyan has yet admitted, an unpleasant reminder of the campus’s activist underside once more reared its head. Tents were pitched on Foss Hill by a collection of (who else) environmental activists, demanding that Connecticut “build on the state’s civic and environmental leadership to move to 100 percent clean electricity in ten years,” to quote the missive published by the group’s leaders in The Argus. And fittingly, given the swelling of these activists’ collective sense of self-importance (and the corresponding need for it to be punctured), the tents dotting Foss Hill to signify their demands resemble nothing so much as multicolored zits.
Fortunately, the needed popping can be readily supplied. It is no surprise to this author that the people responsible for this latest excursion into romanticized Luddism are precisely the same people responsible for the embarrassing “350” event last semester – an event whose glib apologists were swiftly silenced by the revelation of Climategate, and its attendant implications that climate scientists had been once more seduced by the lure of environmental fundamentalism into falsifying evidence. Fortunately, the justifications offered for this unnecessary sequel to the “350” debacle are a tad more honest. For instance, we are told by the group’s spokespeople that, “Connecticut will declare itself 100 percent opposed to the harmful health effects that coal mining inflicts on Appalachian communities” and that, if that particular tough-talking move is not enough, “We will declare ourselves 100 percent opposed to contributing to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, which currently threatens communities in Bangladesh that are already vulnerable to flooding.” And, in what may be the most stunning assertion of the piece, the authors declare that, “People around the world already understand that dirty fossil fuels are not our future.”
Where to start? One supposes that the obvious first question is why on earth it is any of Connecticut’s business what happens in Appalachia, or why Appalachia should care if Connecticut opposes what happens there. Perhaps this is merely cynicism, but it seems to this author that the wealthiest state in the union has no business at all telling poorer areas how much it opposes what happens to them. Moreover, it strikes this author as distinctly regressive for a collection of self-appointed environmental college commissars to presume to take away investments from the Appalachian coal industry, thus depriving countless workers of their jobs and means of sustenance, simply because they think the air is too dirty. Now, to be sure, a regressive policy may be the only reasonable one. However, to the extent that the case for environmental alarmism constructed by this collection of campsite carriers-on is based solely on gooey, over-emotional appeals to egalitarian sentiment, it is surely hypocritical for said carriers-on to tacitly endorse such a policy.
Of course, while the appeals to the now-discredited idea of human-caused climate change are more thinly veiled in this particular piece, that does not mean they are nonexistent. Consider, for instance, the claim that “we will declare ourselves 100 percent opposed to contributing to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, which currently threatens communities in Bangladesh that are already vulnerable to flooding.” The assumption that “dirty” coal contributes in any way to said melting is simply a function of sneaking wrongheaded assumptions under the radar. Moreover, even if we presume that the assumption is true (against every scandalous trace of evidence), the same two questions inescapably present themselves.
Firstly, assuming it is true that this melting affects communities in Bangladesh adversely, so what? The authors of this statement, Sam Bernhardt ’10 and Dan Levine ’12, provide no evidence that Bangladesh’s interests are remotely relevant to America’s interests, or to the interests of Wesleyan students. Moreover, why should we oppose the melting of Himalayan glaciers in this context? Is Bangladesh a major trading partner, the loss of whose consumption would damage the United States? If not, then why should Connecticut (a member of the United States) care about it? Levine and Bernhardt, as private citizens, are free to pour their own money into whatever cause they like, but for the state of Connecticut to act in a way not related to the interests of its citizens is surely a violation of the social contract.
Secondly, presuming that Connecticut does have interests in this issue, does it follow that our opposition (whether of the 100 percent, 50 percent or 25 percent variety) will actually do anything? Surely, this is an issue which the entire United States must take up in order to be relevant, and given that the interests of Connecticut are not necessarily the interests of other states, doesn’t it thus follow that another burden arises for the environmentalists to meet?
And while we’re on the subject, is it too much to ask for them to anticipate a few objections before they go around publishing intellectually stultifying calls to action and mucking up our hills with tents and making prefrosh see us as over-idealistic hankerers after the Stone Age, rather than one of the best colleges in the country? A slight reminder to the environmentalists is overdue: you have perfectly good dorms. Get back inside them. There are starving children in Bangladesh.