Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 19th 2014 Contents A32
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, May 19, 2014
- With so many opinions about the removal of
SEA and now the removal of the top 100/200
list, I am beginning to wonder if "excellence" and
"high achievement" are now curse words.
It would appear that the very thing that all
teachers long for in their students has now be-
come unwanted. Highlighting the success and
high performance of students are now being re-
jected by some of the very same educators who
are themselves probably aiming for sub-stan-
I have read very few supportive statements
by educators on behalf of high achievers; it is as
if these students are maligned or even hated for
their success, and some would have you think
that highlighting their achievements would
make others feel bad.
Certainly CXC, CAPE and university exams are
important, many work towards first-class hon-
ours. Should this be discouraged?
Should bursaries and scholarships be discour-
aged? Even though these grants help underprivi-
Should foreign universities stop offering par-
tial scholarships to local students for fear of of-
fending the ones who don't get into MIT or FIT,
where one can pursue a field of study which is
It is patently hypocritical of some educators
to want to downplay the high performance of
any student, when in fact they are trying to
bring out the best in their own students. Poppy-
cock at best and horse manure at worst!
My insides cry when I see and hear educators
shunning success and embracing mediocrity.
Every student should aspire to be the best and
use the success of others as an inspiration to so
do.How parents and teachers instill a healthy
sense of competitiveness is more the issue
rather than competition itself.
There are many drug cheats in the Olympics,
should we stop this competition? What about
spelling bees, mental math, OWTU quizzes etc.
Should all these things be stopped because
some teachers don't like how these competi-
tions make other students feel?
Both teachers and parents need to re-think
their attitudes towards competitiveness. This is
definitely one factor which brings out the best in
all of us. I shudder to think what students would
aspire to if they aren't given a benchmark.
Success should always be celebrated. We do it
for our sporting heroes and Olympic medalists,
why can't we do it for our academics?
Aiming for the mediocre
Should fossil-fuel companies be the
targets of an economic boycott like
the one directed against apartheid-era
South Africa? Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, august moral leader, calls for
divestment from the companies responsi-
ble for anthropogenic climate change.
He s convinced that fossil-fuel companies
will do everything in their power to
maintain the fossil-fuel-dominated status
quo, resulting in climate catastrophe.
There s just too much money to be
made, and let s face it, put yourself in
the shoes of an oil company executive.
Your education, your career, your social
status, your mortgage, your children s
university fund, your material posses-
sions...they all depend on a continuation
of the industry in which you ve invested
your life s purpose.
These companies will not change from
the inside out. In fact, they have done
everything in their power to make belief
in anthropogenic climate change one
based on ideology rather than one based
on science. They will have to be com-
pelled to change by outside forces.
Harvard faculty and students are
among those who have taken up the
cause of divestment from fossil-fuel
companies. In April students blockaded
the office of Harvard President Faust,
and nearly 100 professors signed an open
letter accusing Harvard of failing to take
a leadership position on climate change.
Central to the debate is Harvard s US$32
billion endowment, some of which is
invested in climate-change-causing fos-
sil-fuel companies. Students call this
investment duplicitous. While Harvard
trains them for the future, it s endorsing
an industry that threatens that same
future. Divestment is the opposite of
investment. It s the call for investors to
withdraw financial support from compa-
nies to influence behaviour or policy.
There have been many divestment cam-
paigns for different causes. Some better-
known examples are divestment cam-
paigns against tobacco companies;
fashion houses that use sweatshop
labour; and, more recently, animal-rights
campaigns to divest from companies like
Sea World, which keep orcas and dol-
phins captive. How successful are divest-
ment campaigns? A study titled "The
Effect of Socially Activist Investment
Policies on the Financial Markets: Evi-
dence from the South African Boycott"
researched just that. The researchers
tested the conventional wisdom that eco-
nomic boycott brought apartheid in
South Africa to its knees, with evidence
based on share prices and profits of
companies targeted by the boycott. They
found that "potential lost economic
opportunities through the boycott were
too small to be statistically or economi-
While some socially conscientious
shareholders withdrew funds from com-
panies with investments in South Africa,
other investors with less moral scruples
filled their void. During the period of
greatest activist pressure, the Johannes-
burg Stock Exchange reached new
So is the call for divestment ineffec-
tive? While divestment campaigns don t
result in a shockwave of falling share
prices, they do raise public awareness,
and force participants of the marketplace
to think about the morality of their deci-
sions. Divestment may not directly tackle
the short-term economic foundation of
investment in fossil-fuel companies; it
will affect the thought process by which
people decide how to invest their money.
When activists influence thought
processes, it means they are engineering
societal change and societal change is the
pan ultimate objective of all activism.
Harvard student s "Divest Harvard"
Web site states: "Through divestment, we
aim to highlight the rogue status of the
fossil-fuel industry and rebrand them as
Imagine making respected fossil-fuel
companies and their well-paid employees
into "social pariahs." It reminds me of a
TV interview I once saw with a white
South African woman talking about how
relieved she was when apartheid ended.
She spoke about how ashamed she used
to feel when fellow travellers would see
her passport when standing in the immi-
gration line at border checkpoints. What
if we could make employees and share-
holders of the companies most responsi-
ble for climate change feel that kind of
embarrassment about their impact on the
We know that renewable energy will
reach price parity with fossil-fuel energy
in about 2033, but market-driven change
will come slowly and we have a long his-
tory of oil companies using their huge
lobbying power to distort the climate
change debate, and extract government
subsidies to distort the free market.
While they continue to entrench their
dominance they threaten our very exis-
If we are to keep climate change within
a 2-degree-C temperature rise, we will
have to keep 80 per cent of all fossil-fuel
reserves in the ground. Fossil-fuel com-
panies now add those reserves to their
future profit predictions.
The South African experience shows
that there will always be unscrupulous
investors willing to back even the most
immoral companies so we will have to
rely on policy change to keep those fossil
fuels and their greenhouse gases in the
ground. Divestment will not harm the
stock market value of fossil-fuel compa-
nies directly, but it will help rebrand
them as "rogue pariahs" which will
eventually have an influence on policy. In
the long run all sustainable policy is a
result of social consensus.
DIVESTMENT WILL MAKE PARIAHS
OF FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES
MARC DE VERTEUIL
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