Earlier this year the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published a damning report detailing the comprehensive takeover of Higher Education establishments across the West by the ‘Sustainability’ movement. It makes for shocking reading, even for those well inured in climate propaganda issues.
Anyone familiar with the philosophy of Saul Alinsky, the policy of Agenda 21 or the practices of Post-Normalism will be unsurprised by the agenda this movement has imposed on the university sector. What will likely surprise you is the sheer extent to which it has infiltrated and achieved control with barely a whisper to the outside world.
Having been ensconced (again) in the world of academia for the last eight years or so, I’d noticed the creeping authoritarianism on the campuses of several institutions in the name of ‘sustainability’. I initially wrote them off as nasty exceptions to the general rule, albeit now being university campuses I would advise others not to send their children until the collective madness passed. If the NAS report is correct, it is in fact the norm in the U.S. on campus and soon to be the norm in the UK and Australia. A ‘master narrative’ that is to become the ‘new normal’ for higher education in the Anglosphere.
What is ‘Sustainability’?
Before proceeding into the meat of the NAS report findings the authors point out it is important to understand how the meaning of ‘sustainability’ itself has changed. Its original definition has connotations that many, including myself, may consider broadly positive. Its meaning for the current sustainability movement however marks out substantial ideological territory. It has transformed from being a general concern with environmental responsibility to a summons for enormous social, political and economic changes in human life across the globe.
In 1972 the UN issued the Stockholm Declaration. In this document, Principle 11 became the basis of what many of us today may regard as the positive characterisation of ‘sustainability’, or something very much like it:
“The environmental policies of all States should enhance and not adversely affect the present or future development potential of developing countries, nor should they hamper the attainment of better living conditions for all.”
In other words, whilst everyone wants a clean healthy environment, this should also be balanced with economic concerns and improved living conditions for all. Sounds eminently reasonable, doesn’t it? And indeed it was this kind of reasoning that led to legislation in the U.S. such as the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972) and so on. These are the visions of ‘sustainability’ that most of us who were educated before the turn of the century would be familiar with and are probably more than a little sympathetic towards. We have a lot to thank the ‘old school’ environmentalists for in this respect. Unfortunately this understanding of ‘sustainability’ was not to last.
In 1987 the UN released another document titled Our Common Future. It was subsequently often referred to as the ‘Brundtland Report’, after the former Norwegian Prime Minister who headed it. This piece took exception to the Stockholm Declaration.
Why? It considered that the previous approach privileged humanity over the environment. ‘Development’ should instead be redefined to mean a tool used to improve the environment itself, rather than the health of the latter being one (but not the only) precondition for human prosperity. This resulted in the definition of ‘sustainable development’ still most commonly articulated today:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
‘Sustainable development’ thus introduced the appeal to future generations. The Brundtland Report also began the process of explicitly linking environmental concerns to social and political goals. ‘Sustainability’ was recast as multi-generational and global. The era of nations going their own way and doing what they thought was best for their own citizens was over.
Since 1987, this meaning has now expanded further to become a smorgasbord of hard left concerns. The influence of “Social Justice Warriors” and other extremists such as Naomi Klein (”extremist” is the very word the NAS report uses to describe her) has transformed it beyond all recognition. As NAS put it:
“The sustainability movement has actively recruited the poor and minorities to join the campaign, broadening its message into a catch-all for environmental and social grievances. Economic inequality, racial discrimination, sexism, and egalitarian democracy have all become issues at home within sustainability.”
‘Sustainability’ has become, as the NAS authors characterise it, “second wave environmentalism”. “Social and economic justice” are now placed on par with, and inseparable from, what was previously a perfectly reasonable concern for the health of the environment within which humans live. Thus Klein and fellow travellers are now able to articulate arguments to the effect that climate sceptics (and indeed anyone who disagrees with this agenda) are racist, sexist, homophobic and so on. It is a powerful and toxic mixture.
Forget the age old campus debates between conservative and liberal freethinking students. This new vision of ‘sustainability’ is rapidly becoming the dominant ideology at colleges and universities across the West. Rapid growth of administrative and staff positions to dedicated ‘sustainability’ roles means the institutionalization of advocacy. The ideology thus becomes privileged on campus. And it is imposed from both ends – top-down from the College Presidents and bottom up from activists in the student body. The latter are presented as ‘grass roots’ despite being anything but. NAS have given this phenomenon a specific name – the Campus Sustainability Movement (CSM). The extensive, novel length report on this movement’s success is well worth reading in full if you have time. NAS have also produced many papers on the subject and maintain active research into the development of this movement.
Public awareness of CSM’s extent and power is very low. NAS state that one of their primary aims in researching and publishing the report is to change that urgently. CSM has become a major movement that needs challenging, especially on campus and before it is too late to deprogram the next generation and yet more idiotic policies are forced on us by the next generation of activists and political greasy pole climbers.
How big exactly is CSM?
The body of literature alone supporting CSM is massive. NAS estimate that over 50,000 books and 200,000 formal articles have been published that extol the premises of the movement and advocate on its behalf. The organisational infrastructure is no less impressive:
“Over 100 formal organizations have been created or re-purposed to advance the movement. There are upwards of 50 professional bodies to serve the intellectual and career interests of sustainability experts. There are 1,438 sustainability-focused academic programs at 475 campuses in 65 states and provinces to credential those experts.”
The movement is also awash with money. Amongst other examples:
“The EPA alone has spent more than $333 million in the last 15 years sponsoring sustainability fellowships, predominantly for college and university professors, in addition to another $60 million in sustainability research grants. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records show more than $3 billion in grants for climate science research since 1998 (more than $89 million in 2014)”
In total, NAS conclude on an annual basis:
“these numbers indicate an average of $465 million in federal funding for sustainability and climate change research each year.”
I think NAS have significantly underestimated the amount of money available for CSM allied research and activism on campus. The examples and funding bodies they consider are only a partial picture, dealing with money that is clearly and explicitly directed to university departments. Australian climate sceptic Jo Nova asserted that ‘Big Green’ has more money than ‘Big Oil’. Her wide consideration of ‘climate money’ revealed some vast figures. In 2009, she published a report concluding that $79 billion had already been spent since 1989 in the U.S. on “climate related science and technology research, administration, education campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks.”
Since then Nova has cited a litany of examples on her blog including $100 billion (yes, that’s not a typo) committed to “sustainability” by Citibank earlier this year. The EU should not be forgotten as another major contributor either. It committed to €180 billion on “climate spending” between 2014 and 2020. Even if much of that money is, as Nova notes, simply already committed spending relabelled with a ‘green tint’, a significant portion of that will be disbursed to research as part of its ‘Framework Programmes’ that are now the main sources of research funding for many academics across the EU.
Regarding the overt organisation of CSM on campus, one of the dominant CSM groups, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has been wildly successful in the highest echelons of education. As of 2007, more than 140 College and University Presidents had signed AASHE’s “American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment”. It commits signatories to “[c]ampuses that address the climate challenge by reducing global warming emissions and by integrating sustainability into their curriculum.”
NAS point out that hundreds more institutions are strong supporters of the commitment even if they have not become formal signatories. They carry out may of the prescribed actions and hesitate from signing “not out of conviction that the Commitment is mistaken in either its diagnosis or its prescriptions, but out of financial prudence.” Signing the AASHE commitment after all, means signalling determination to “eliminate all greenhouse gas emission”.
It is no surprise then to find that annually 332 universities compete for top places in The Princeton Review’s “Guide to Green Colleges”. And beyond the formal commitment, 772 institutions worldwide (694 in the U.S.) pledge institutional affiliation with AASHE. Alternatively they join other groups or initiatives such as the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (400 institutions).
What happens on campus as a result of CSM?
Possibly the most important developments are firstly, the burgeoning accredited pathways for ‘sustainability’ academics and secondly the embedding of the CSM agenda within all courses and aspects of university life.
Firstly, let us consider the formal accreditation. CSM now has such a substantial body of literature, campaign groups, dedicated academic departments and publications and money available to it that being a participant in its perpetuation has become a viable career option. It is now possible to acquire formal qualifications even up to PhD level in ‘sustainability’. This is deeply problematic however, for as NAS point out:
“The “disciplinary” status of sustainability is a bit open to question, though. It isn’t a distinct science, like biology or physics; it isn’t a distinct branch of the humanities, like philosophy or history; it isn’t a social science, like economics or sociology. Rather it is a swirl of ideas and commitments that touch many things.”
Beyond awarding qualifications, some institutions have redefined themselves around the idea and practice of CSM. Unity College, for example, attaches all of its course offerings to a core “Environmental Citizen curriculum”. What exactly do students learn here? NAS has some ideas:
“a little science, a bit of economics, a dab about ethics, and a great deal of social theory and political advocacy…[Sustainability] can offer courses in ethical eating and environmental poetry at the same time that it offers a few in trash studies and sociology. There’s something there for everyone.”
Regarding the broader student experience, and the effect on courses that are not explicitly about ‘sustainability’, the NAS report goes into great depth to show how the academy has become subservient to CSM. Previously, the academic environment provided robust debate, challenging positions and clarity of argument. Students would learn specific crafts and skills and be thoroughly exposed to principled reasoning. Instead now all subjects and even pedagogical methods of teaching must be situated within the overarching narratives of sustainability. NAS identified five problematic ways in which this is done:
1) Open enquiry is displaced in favour of appeals to authority.
2) Research and teaching faculties are locked into orthodoxy – “Not only are certain questions shut out, but certain answers are locked in.”
3) Students are subjected to ongoing and sometimes constant manipulation. This is generally through the process of ‘nudging’ acceptable behaviours with regard to, for example, consumption, recycling and energy use.
4) Mindful attention to matters deemed as irrelevant to ‘sustainability’ is undermined.
5) Students are diverted into pointless sustainability battles at the expense of learning how to become meaningful participants in civil society.
Students are ‘nudged’ to engage in ‘sustainable’ lifestyle changes on and off campus. One of the most disturbing developments for me is how NAS describe many institutions also asking students to take a ‘Sustainability Pledge’ upon matriculation that they are also expected to repeat upon graduation. NAS give the example of the pledge used by the University of Virginia:
“I pledge to consider the social, economic, and environmental impacts of my habits and to explore ways to live more sustainably during my time here at U.Va. and beyond.”
Other institutions go further and expect students to engage in a choice of ‘sustainable’ activities from a prescribed list. The word ‘choice’ is important here as the manipulation of student behaviours is inspired by Thaler and Sunstein’s book Nudge. These authors articulate the process of creating a “choice architecture” that leads people through habituation and choice limitation to desirable behaviours. They still have choice, but only in the sense a rat has choices in how it navigates through a maze.
The NAS report spends an entire chapter on this aspect alone providing a plethora of examples showing students being ‘nudged’ to do everything from giving up water bottles and plastic meal trays through to monitoring their peers’ waste and recycling behaviour. NAS point out that the vast majority of these behaviours will do almost nothing to impact upon CO2 emissions and climate change. They conclude that the primary function behind such ‘choice architectures’ is in fact compliance. Such outcomes are particularly unpalatable in higher education, the report argues, as:
“The movement does not initiate—with conscious ceremony or formal statements to affirm—its novices into its ranks. It conditions them, subtly, into a service kept secret from even their own sensibility.”
In the very institutions where young minds should be taught to be aware of and examine every one of their own beliefs, assumptions or prejudices, they are instead inculcated into a toxic ideology of conformity.
Beyond academia and the U.S. ‘sustainability’ movement
The map above shows that explicit CSM courses overwhelmingly dominate in the US. Readers in the UK should not be complacent however. CSM in Britain is quite possibly even more deeply entrenched than in the US or Australia. And it is also harder to detect. Activists for CSM in the UK did not need to explicitly attempt direct capture of further and higher education sectors because they are able to leverage a much more powerful mechanism: The EU. Whilst the Greens have only a miniscule amount of direct political power in the UK, they have an enormous representation in the EU parliament. Richard North has done some excellent work on this topic that is well worth reading.
‘Sustainability’ and climate change linked NGOs and other lobbyists concentrate their efforts accordingly. Whilst CSM is clearly making headway into UK’s education sector (and not least at primary school level), it is already being imposed on Britain through the legislative framework.
The work of this movement obviously goes far beyond the campus. However, as NAS argue, it is via the academy that it obtains its authority and is able to shape the future through moulding the minds of our young. Generally without their awareness or consent.
As the NAS report notes, the “settled science” and “debate is over” characteristics associated with CAGW in the academy and beyond provide powerful bulwarks inside which the sustainability groups can defend their authoritarian programme of infiltration and indoctrination. Even if the case genuinely was settled, the report argues, their activities would be objectionable on the grounds of academic freedom alone, as NAS state:
“we stand by the principle that all important ideas ought to be open to reasoned debate and careful examination of the evidence. This puts us and others at odds with many in the sustainability movement”
Its advance has been lightning fast in academic terms. In just a decade it has moved from being just the province of a few green activists and trustafarians to becoming the (as NAS put it) “master narrative” on campus. The target is, of course, both much wider than the campus and very much focused on the near future:
“Those activists may dream of a time when they will be able to impose their will on all of society. But in the shorter term, they focus their efforts on dominating higher education, both intellectually by precluding the expression of dissent, and socially by enforcing their own standards of behavior.
When top-down regulation falls short, education and training programs encourage people voluntarily to police themselves and their neighbors.”
The sustainability outrage mob is already significantly effective now, especially with networked technologies allowing for the resurrection of “mass shaming” as a common practice. Bjorn Lomborg found this out recently to his cost when his proposed research centre was, completely irrationally, nixed due to mass activist / scientivist outrage. This was especially remarkable given that, as James Delingpole pointed out, Lomborg actually impeccably ticks their identity politics boxes. No one, it seems, can defy the green blob whoever they are.
What now, and where next?
NAS refer to three ‘levels’ of sustainability education. These ‘levels’ are identified by a British Professor of ‘Sustainability’ (yes it has advanced far enough that professorships can be appointed in the area), Stephen Stirling.
The first level is ‘education about sustainability’. This is transmission of information in dedicated classes and easily assimilated into university programmes. This first level is now comprehensively embedded into education systems.
The second level is ‘education for sustainability’. This focuses on getting students to practice what they are learning. It is about changing behaviours and treating the university campuses as “living laboratories” where students can be ‘nudged’ along. The vast majority of academic institutions now pay at least lip service to this and many are thoroughly captured by it.
The third level is ‘education as sustainability’. This is seen as the final phase where CSM is embedded in every single course, practice and behaviour at the academy, including at the pedagogical level. Where every member of staff and every student lives and breathes ‘sustainability’.
The NSA report assesses that the battle over the first two levels have been lost. The third and final phase is where educational battles are currently being waged. However, they express hopes that with much wider public awareness, this battle could still be won.