The importance of fossil fuels

William Bornhoft

Student activism has a rich and storied history at many U.S. colleges and universities. From marching against the Vietnam War to advocating for lower tuition, protest movements started by students play an important and beneficial role in our democracy.

     Unfortunately, despite good intentions, the goals of many student activist groups are simply not grounded in reality.

     One such group is Fossil Free Minnesota, which is a registered student organization at the University of Minnesota. It hopes to push the school to “immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest ownership from fossil fuel companies within five years.” Their goal, to “provide a more sustainable future for the University of Minnesota community,” is a good one. Their method to achieve that goal, however, is not. 

     According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels made up more than four-fifths of the country’s energy consumption in 2011. Fossil fuels are essential to everyday life, and the companies that produce them should not be punished for simply responding to this demand; without their product, we could not drive, take the bus, light our homes or make our food. Rather than weakening companies that provide an essential service, activists should promote capable alternatives to fossil fuels, such as solar and wind energy.

     Another flaw of the divest strategy is that it strips the University of any influence it might have over the fossil fuel companies, hurting rather than aiding what Fossil Fuel Minnesota wants to accomplish. Stockholders have a say in the direction of the company, and getting corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron to invest in renewable energy is easier to do as a shareholder.     

     For the foreseeable future, the University will continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels, but investments give it real influence over large energy companies. What is the use in taking that away?

     Last month, the Minnesota Daily reported that Fossil Free Minnesota was in talks with President Eric Kaler in hopes of persuading him to freeze and eventually cut the University’s investments in fossil fuel companies. Kaler would be ill advised to do so, and hopefully he understands that there is little sense in punishing companies for making a product we heavily rely on. Instead, Kaler and environmental activists on campus should work to promote alternative energies so one day we truly can become a “fossil free” state.  

 

William Bornhoft

Welcomes comments at [email protected].