James Lawrence Powell

Harvard and Brown Are Wrong To Reject Calls To Divest From Fossil Fuels

This article was originally published in the February 17th issue of The Nation and is republished with permission. Read the full text of the editorial here.

by James Lawrence Powell

University presidents once spoke their conscience on matters of great public importance. In the early 1950s, many protested the loyalty oaths that required faculty members to forswear membership in the Communist Party. One of the most courageous critics of McCarthyism was Nathan Pusey, first as president of Lawrence College in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, then as president of Harvard. In the 1960s, some university presidents openly opposed the war in Vietnam. Even at the cost of donor support, Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr. publicly contested the war and decried the inequities in the draft. He permitted protest demonstrations and skillfully kept the Yale campus open and relatively calm.

In the 1980s, a protest movement arose on American campuses as students—and some campus presidents—argued that it was immoral for universities to own stock in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. Although Harvard president Derek Bok refused to support divestment over apartheid, Harvard eventually did sell most of its South Africa–related stock—and Bok did endorse the sale of stock in tobacco companies.

Today, university presidents and the institutions they lead confront a moral choice over a crisis that threatens human health and society on a far greater scale than either tobacco or apartheid: climate change. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in Field Notes From a Catastrophe, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” In the last few years, students have begun urging their colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies (FFCs), whose products are driving climate change. Two of the first university presidents to respond, Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard and Christina Paxson of Brown, this fall placed themselves and their institutions on the wrong side of science and of history by rejecting divestment.

I believe that presidents Faust and Paxson were wrong, gravely wrong, not only in the broadest sense—because their choice harms humanity—but because they failed in their narrow duty to protect their institutions and their present and future students.

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility: Only 1 of 9,136 Recent Peer-Reviewed Authors Rejects Global Warming

This is a guest post by James Lawrence Powell.

I have brought my previous study (see here and here) up-to-date by reviewing peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals over the period from Nov. 12, 2012 through December 31, 2013. I found 2,258 articles, written by a total of 9,136 authors. (Download the chart above here.) Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. I discuss that article here.

James Lawrence Powell: Divest Over Global Warming?

This is a guest post by James Lawrence Powell, originally published on GoFossilFree.org

A generation ago, students urged colleges to sell their stock in companies doing business in Apartheid South Africa. At least 155 colleges and universities, as well as 26 state governments, 22 countries, and 90 cities, partially or fully divested. One of the first private institutions to divest was Columbia University, whose trustees said in 1978 that they had done so “to maintain educational leadership,” which demanded “ethical and humane positions that give effective expression to our highest national ideals” (Columbia Spectator, June 8, 1978). In 1986, the University of California sold $3 billion in South Africa-related stocks, the largest public institution to do so.

Powell Climate Science Pie Chart Featured On The Young Turks

The Young Turks discussed James Lawrence Powell's pie chart and analysis of climate science on the show this weekend.

Powell's pie chart study has gone viral in the past month, thanks to coverage by a wide array of outlets, including DeSmogBlog, TreeHugger, UpWorthy, Slate and more.

Watch the segment with Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, and Ben Mankiewicz talking about the Powell pie chart on The Young Turks

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility - In One Pie Chart

This is a guest post by James Lawrence Powell.*

Polls show that many members of the public believe that scientists substantially disagree about human-caused global warming. The gold standard of science is the peer-reviewed literature. If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature.

I searched the Web of Science for peer-reviewed scientific articles published between 1 January 1991 and 9 November 2012 that have the keyword phrases “global warming” or “global climate change.” The search produced 13,950 articles. See methodology.

James Powell: Science Denial Is Not Free

The following post is from James Powell, author of The Inquisition of Climate ScienceThis is the first post in a 3-part series. It originally appeared at Columbia University Press.

In May 2011 the US National Academy of Sciences declared that “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks…. The environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.” One hundred other national and international scientific organizations agree with the NAS. How many disagreed? None. Zero. Zilch. As one scientist put it, “There’s a better scientific consensus on this than on any issue I know—except maybe Newton’s second law of dynamics.”

One organization that does dispute the NAS and the world consensus on global warming is the US House of Representatives. In April, the House took up a bill to remove the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, opening a new front in the Republican War on Science (title of a great book by Chris Mooney). Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) offered a countering amendment with language nearly identical to that of the Academy: “Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” The amendment failed 184-240, with one Republican voting in favor and three Democrats against.

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