crackapolo Uploaded on Mar 14, 2008
Chopin Ballade No.1, OP. 23 in G Minor
Performed by Arthur Rubinstein
Recorded April 29, 1959
Beyond Rage, Beyond Anger … Our Institutions are
(Some reflections upon listening to Chopin while reading
“Fossil Fuel Divestment Statement,”
October 3, 2013
Office of the President,
Some statements of those speaking on behalf of institutions are so profoundly troubling that they can only be responded to by pausing to reflect more deeply upon the human condition and our peculiar moment in the trajectory of our species in a complex and evolving ecosystem.
What does the Fossil Fuel Divestment Statement say about the fundamental values of Harvard University? What does it declare about the loyalties of this institution in the face of the younger generation crying out to be heard? What does this statement imply about the prospects for the human enterprise when even our most venerated institutions of learning have become so tragically trapped in the myopic swirl of market based, profit-driven metaphors of valuation and validation?
It is now apparent that the carbon energy bubble is coming to an end both because we are running low on cheaply accessible supplies and, more fundamentally, because civilization cannot survive the consequences of burning those that remain. In either case, shouldn’t we expect that the institutions that have large endowments might adopt a longer view and take the lead in moving us toward an ethic of sustainability? Shouldn’t they be able to help their students — and humankind more broadly — to envision and plan a realistic transition to a post carbon-fueled world, rather than grovel shamefully after the last dollar to be made from the fossilized industries that are effectively accelerating our imminent demise?
This lost opportunity for leadership is what has disappointed students so thoroughly at Harvard. They feel betrayed by an institution which they had once greatly respected and to which they are already in debt for thousands of dollars. Any parent learns that when it comes to teaching ethical norms to their children it is not so much what they say that counts but rather what they do. It is through what Harvard has now done that students feel it has failed them. As they put it:
Leadership requires courage and vision–President Faust demonstrated neither. Today, she chose the fossil fuel industry over her students.
In August we learned from some of the most currently informed scientists that the point of no return is foreseeable. This should give us pause. No matter how profitable burning carbon may appear to university endowment officers in short-term financial returns, this strategy for the pursuit of profit is suicidal. Climate chaos, the collapse of global food supplies and rising sea levels mean that civilization as we know it is at stake. Speculating on scarcity in a time of increasing constraint may seem profitable in the short run, but it appears morally bankrupt to many.
Moreover, many more will suffer the consequences of system-wide collapse as the full consequences of burning fossil fuels become inescapable in country after country across a wasted world. Bill McKibben has phrased it quite clearly: “If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” Systemic collapse will undermine all of our most venerable educational institutions and their impressive portfolios. Their exceptional endowments will not make them exceptions to the laws of physics. There will be no second chance. Do the math now, and get it right. The final exam is already underway, and it will not be given over again.
If there is a way forward, perhaps it lies not in argument but through art. Artistic work can speak powerfully across centuries to our momentary confusions — if we but learn to listen. Sometimes the most meaningful response to unsettling statements from institutional spokespersons is to seek solace and insight from the transcendent declarations of creative artists like Chopin and performing artists like Rubenstein. Perhaps it is time to pause for a while, to listen attentively, to reflect deeply…. and then to reorient ourselves and redirect our institutions.
Since the “default mode” of our institutions is leading toward system-wide destruction, surely we must redirect this default mode. If we do not change direction, we are bound to end up where we are headed. The logic is simple; the results will be disastrous. We need now to stop and rethink things from square one in a world that we did not create, cannot control and must not destroy.
Markiash Uploaded on Mar 7, 2010