Rachelle Peterson

Rachelle Peterson


  • B.A., Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, The King’s College (2013). [1]


Rachelle Peterson is a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute and director of research projects at the National Association of Scholars (NAS). [2]

Peterson has been a strong critic of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the sustainability movement, and environmentalist Bill McKibben. She has written the NAS report Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels and is co-author of Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism.

Before starting work at NAS in 2013, Peterson interned at Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank funded largely by conservative foundations including as the Sarah Scaife FoundationMercer Family Foundation, and by ExxonMobil. [1]

The NAS has boasted of its own history of criticizing the sustainability and divestment movement. The following is from a November 2015 Inside Divestment report, written by Peterson: [3]

“The National Association of Scholars has observed and critiqued the campus sustainability movement over the last seven years, and followed the fossil fuel divestment movement since its emergence at Swarthmore five years ago. We offer the most thorough encyclopedia of collegiate fossil fuel divestment activism published to date. “

Stance on Climate Change

September 24, 2015

According to Peterson, “Scientists who refuse to cow to the orthodoxy of dangerous anthropogenic global warming have had a rough go of it in academia.” She describes the word “denier” as “a derogatory epithet that disrespects climate change skeptics’ legitimate scientific concerns and jumps straight to stigmatization.”

“The National Association of Scholars takes no position on the validity of the various scientific claims made in the dispute over catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, but we applaud the AP for ruling out the inappropriate and disrespectful term “climate change denier,” Peterson wrote at the NAS blog. [4]

July 5, 2015

Writing at Minding the Campus, after several paragraphs criticizing environmentalist Bill McKibben, Peterson promotes the myth of a “pause” in global warming: [5]

“[I]t might be worth noting that even skeptics of global warming and supporters of the Keystone Pipeline have souls. And with an eighteen-year pause in global warming and our planet healthier than it’s been in centuries, this year’s grads might have been better served with some other chestnuts. Don’t believe everything you are told. And the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the sustainability fence.”

Peterson also wrote about the “pause” at the NAS blog, citing journalist and prominent climate change denier Christopher Monckton for evidence that NOAA‘s analysis of temperature data is flawed. [6]

May 18, 2015

Writing at National Review Online, Peterson declared: [7]

“’Denier’ is a slur aimed at discrediting an opponent without having to engage his points. Virtually none of the traditional ‘deniers’ actually think that the climate has never changed or that it hasn’t been warming gradually over the past few decades. The real debate is whether the warming is dangerous. But activists want to avoid that debate.”

Key Quotes

August 7, 2018

“The death of the divestment movement is not a total victory. The environmental left has been badly wounded, but it is not dead,” Peterson said during her speech at the Heartland Institute’s America First Energy Conference in 2018. [8]

Peterson later criticized Swarthmore College for increasing its global warming education, describing it as only a “partial victory” when they did not divest from fossil fuels: [8]

“[Swarthmore College’s] decision is one that hundreds of colleges and universities have made: the decision to decline to divest, but also to instead invest significant campus resources into perpetuating the machinery of global warming alarmism.

That makes the death of the Divestment Student Network, and the decline in fossil fuel divestment fervor, only a partial victory.”


“The fossil fuel movement not only advocates a deeply flawed environmental policy. Worse, it trains a generation to disdain representative government. It replaces a college education with four years of misguided activism.”


“We should celebrate the demise of the Divestment Student Network, but we should not think our work is done.”

June 1, 2016

In an article at Perspective, the publication of Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs — a conservative think tank and member of the State Policy Network — Peterson said Scott Pruitt and Alabama senator Luther Strange deserved “hearty praise” for fighting against subpoenas filed against oil giant ExxonMobil and conservative think tanks to determine if they misled the public on climate change (Peterson described these as a “witch-hunt investigation”). [9]

“ Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, has shown admirable pluck in announcing along with his Alabaman counterpart Luther Strange that they believe scientific debates should remain open, rather than ‘silenced with threats of criminal prosecution.’ Pruitt and Strange deserve hearty praise for their courage, but alas, the sustainability juggernaut moves on,” Peterson wrote. [9]

Earlier in the article Peterson argued the actions by the sustainability movement on college campuses were futile: [9]

“Will giving up plastic lighters really save much trash or trim tons of carbon dioxide emissions? These small steps toward ‘sustainability’ more closely resemble the genuflections of a radical devotee than the rational plans of a pragmatist.”

She concluded by comparing sustainability to socialism: [9]

“Socialism fits nicely with sustainability’s triple bottom line, and at times it’s hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins. Citizens should take note—or else our constitutional republic may not find itself sustainable.”

May 11, 2016

After attending “Black Lives Matter 101: A Comprehensive Course in Black Social Movements,” Peterson wrote a critique of the movement based on her experience at the event. [10]

“The Black Lives Matter is a faction that has appropriated moral language because it sees that it will serve its purpose. It is opportunistic rather than principled, and the contradictions in its claims are evidence of its incoherence,” Peterson wrote

“The Black Lives Matter movement attempts to mobilize the resentments in black communities and to shame whites into ceding their wealth and power, partly out of fear and partly out of contrition.”

She concluded: “Their prevailing mix of anger, resentment, self-pity, and self-assertion has undoubtedly achieved a short-term political success for the Black Lives Matter movement. They may mistake that as a reason for more of the same. But their campaign has futility built in.”

November 2015

“The fossil fuel divestment movement is turning institutions of higher learning, along with their professors and students, into tools of political advocacy,” Peterson said in a NAS talk on divestment. [11]

September 10, 2015

“[C]limate demagoguery is a force to be reckoned with. It has done virtually nothing to clean up pollution, but has gone far in scrubbing the free exchange of ideas from the academic environment,” Peterson wrote at Spiked online. [12]

May 2015

“Divestment is a placebo for real environmental protection, which requires individual stewardship far more than symbolic gestures,” Peterson wrote at NAS. [13]

November 19, 2014

In an article at The Federalist, Peterson urged readers to “savor the moment” of ”[e]nvironmentalism’s failure to resonate with voters” during 2014 midterm elections. [14]

“Yet environmentalists, spurred by a religious devotion to Mother Earth and flush with cash thanks to activists like Steyer, are not going to quit,” Peterson wrote. She went on to suggest “anti-capitalist and ‘social justice’ agendas are more important to many participants than the environmental ones […] Environmentalism for many is just a springboard into radical politics. Students learn to favor managed economies and social reorganization. Efficient light bulbs and reusable water bottles are symbols, not goals.” [14]

In recommendations, Peterson said “the government should quit bankrolling sustainability initiatives on college campuses” and “[p]rofessors should push back against the intrusion of sustainability into their courses.” [14]

“To stop the global-warming extremist movement from rebounding after its 2014 loss in the polls will take more than spiking the three-ring campus sustainability circus. It will require some serious strategizing on the part of conservatives. We were lucky this time. Cold weather has dampened the readiness of Americans to believe the world will end in fire (or flood from melting ice caps) anytime soon.

But the climatistas are night and day refining their just-so stories, and have become expert at selling their secular salvation myth to millions of young people who thirst for a more compelling life narrative than endless consumerism. To combat a compelling narrative with a stirring role for imaginary survivors of the eco-apocalypse, we need a better narrative. Global warming skepticism by itself isn’t enough. If conservatives are serious about beating back this new form of leftist utopianism, they need to convince a generation once again that freedom is a better choice.” (Emphasis added). [14]

July 10, 2014

“[T]here is increasing concern that GHGs are not quite so harmful to the planet as the EPA might have us think, and that the agency may have rigged its data and hidden the evidence,” Peterson claimed in an article at NAS (later reblogged by Anthony Watts). [24]

Key Deeds

August 7, 2018

Peterson spoke at the Heartland Institute‘s “America First Energy Conference” (AFEC 2018) in New Orleans, Louisiana. [15]

The purpose of this event is to promote and expand energy freedom in the United States, as outlined in President Donald Trump’s bold America First Energy Plan, a proposal first released during the 2016 presidential campaign. The president’s plan marks a decisive change in direction from the Obama administration’s ‘war on fossil fuels’ and focus on the theory of catastrophic man-caused climate change,” the conference description reads[16]

She spoke on a panel titled “Fudiciary Malpractice: The Sustainable Investment Movement.” [17]

July 20, 2016

Writing at the NAS blog, Peterson promoted an anti-divestment-movement study by Canada’s Frontier Center for Public Policy (FCPP), a group funded by conservative foundations that has sponsored multiple climate change denial events put on by the Heartland Institute. “The fossil fuel divestment campaign is premised on single-minded devotion to a political cause. It has no place in higher education,” Peterson wrote in conclusion, noting that “We echo Desrochers and Shimizu’s parting recommendations.” [18]

March 14, 2016

Writing at the Weekly Standard, Peterson criticized investigations into ExxonMobil by attorneys general as part of the #ExxonKnew effort to determine if the company had intentionally misled the public about climate change. Peterson described the effort as “clearly political.” [19]

Peterson also criticized Bill McKibben, describing him as “the godfather of revamped environmentalism” and suggesting that the Exxon investigation by California attorney general Kamala Harris was designed to help her run for Senate and gain “the support of a newly important political bloc — campus climate activists who might accurately be called the McKibben Left.” [19]

November 2015

Peterson was the author of a NAS report entitled “Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels.” The report’s executive summary describes the fossil fuel divestment movement as “an attack on freedom of inquiry and responsible social advocacy in American higher education.” [3]

See video of Peterson introducing the report at a NAS event below. In the introduction, NAS president Peter Wyatt Wood also notes that Peterson’s initial work at NAS included helping write a grant proposal to the Arthur N. Rupe foundation for the group’s work on sustainability. [20]

April 29, 2015

Writing at the NAS blog, ahead of the release of Pope Francis’s climate encyclical, Peterson promoted an open letter by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation “asking the Pope to help protect the poor from onerous environmental regulations and to consider the scientific questions behind the anthropogenic global warming theory.” [21]

March 2015

Peterson co-authored a NAS report entitled “Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism.” In a chapter titled “the global warming debate,” the report presents the debunked “Climategate” scandal as a reason to disbelieve the scientific consensus of on the cause of climate change. [22]

While the report claims it “takes no position on the existence of global warming or subsidiary issues, including its causes” it says “claims advanced merely on the assumption that the theory of global warming is valid rest on highly insecure foundations.” [22]

The report claims to give an even-handed treatment on the climate issue. However, in the “Global Warming: Yes” section it pivots from established science to discuss the sustainability movement, the redistribution of wealth (“economic resources, too, are rationed and distributed equally, so that no one can hoard wealth or prevent the lowest rungs of society from climbing the economic ladder”), and attempts to tie climate change to controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion (“To get to this better world, policies that uplift underprivileged groups such as women, racial minorities, the disabled, and those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual require special consideration. Contraception, abortion, policies to close wage gaps, the legal recognition of gay marriage, affirmative action, and other social measures are thus linked with social sustainability.”) [22]

On the “Global Warming: No” side, the report claims temperatures have not been rising, primarily citing prominent skeptics — many not climate scientists — with examples including David Whitehouse, Paul C. “Chip Knappenberger, Patrick J. Michaels, Anthony Watts, James Taylor, Bjorn Lomborg, William Happer (multiple citations), Richard Lindzen, James Delingpole, Ross McKitrick, Steve Goreham, and Stephen McIntyre[22]

Some representative statements from that chapter below: [22]

“There are many distinct cases against the existence of global warming, man’s role in causing it, and the need to urgently stop it”


“Nor is it clear that recent temperatures have been skyrocketing or that 2014 was exceptionally hot. Many data sets indicate temperatures stabilizing and flattening since 1998. “ — SkepticalScience climate change myth #9


“Anthony Watts, a veteran broadcast meteorologist, found during a 2009 examination of temperature stations across the country that 89 percent were poorly situated.” — SkeptcalScience details on Watts’ “SurfaceStations.org” project.


“The widely-circulated figure that 97 percent of all scientists believe global warming is dangerous and man-made also has been discredited.” — SkepticalScience climate change myth #4 and myth #130


“While it is true that today’s global surface temperature and lower atmospheric temperature are both slightly warmer than they were fifty years ago, the increase is mild and unlikely to continue much further.” — SkepticalScience climate change myth #108


“In fact, moderate warming may actually benefit the earth. Warmer temperatures and increased concentrations of carbon stimulate lush plant growth, while mild weather (as opposed to historically frigid eras) benefits human wellbeing. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish environmental economist and founder of the Copenhagen Consensus, recognizes the existence of global warming but discounts its harms.” — SkepticalScience climate change myth #44Bjorn Lomborg’s DeSmog profile


“It’s also unclear how much warming is due to human influence. Richard S. Lindzen, an MIT professor of meteorology, commented in the Wall Street Journal […]” — SkepticalScience climate change myth #56 and myth #59Richard Lindzen’s DeSmog profile


“The historical records show many periods of warming and cooling, many of them so ancient that it is unlikely man even had the technological capacity at the time to be responsible for them. And there is evidence that global temperature swings are caused by sun spots, changes in the sun’s electromagnetic activity because of variations in the intensity of solar wind, and the power of El Niño, which suppresses the cold upwelling off of South America. ” — SkepticalScience climate change myth #1, myth#2myth #57, and myth #118


“One cause for skepticism of anthropogenic global warming is because of high-profile scandals in the field of climatology. One of the best-known, “Climategate,” implicated some of the world’s top climate scientists […]” — SkepticalScience climate change myth #17


Social Media


According to her Heartland Institute profile: “Peterson is the author of a newly released study, Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels (November 2015), which provides the first comprehensive account of the international campus movement demanding disinvestment from fossil fuel companies. With Peter Wood she co-authored Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism (March 2015), a top-to-bottom review of how sustainability and environmental studies are promulgated in American higher education. That report was widely covered, including in George F. Will’s nationally syndicated column, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and elsewhere.” [2]

Some samples of Peterson’s publications at NAS below:


  1. Rachelle Peterson,” LinkedIn. Accessed November 15, 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  2. Rachelle Peterson,” The Heartland Institute. Archived November 13, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/7ZDyo
  3. Rachelle Peterson. “Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movmenet to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels” (PDF), NAS, November 2015. 
  4. AP Denies the ‘Denier’ Label,” NAS, September 24, 2015. Archived November 16, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/CFXAR
  5. Rachelle Peterson “The Remarkable Class of 2015 Must Save the Planet,Minding the Campus, July 5, 2015. Archived November 16, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/PsRkr
  6. A Pause for Thought,NAS, June 9, 2015. Archived November 15, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/pFhEm
  7. President Obama, Not Green Enough for the Hardcore Greens,” National Review, May 18, 2015. Archived November 15, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/tYpuL
  8. Rachelle Peterson. “Divesting Freedom: The Fossil Fuel Divestment’s Campaign Against Civic Debate,” National Association of Scholars, August 16, 2018. Archived November 13, 2018. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/r8lLa
  9. Sustainability: The Left’s New Façade,” OCPA, June 1, 2016. Archived November 14, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/v2RZv
  10. ‘Blackness’ Matters,” National Association of Scholars, May 11, 2016. Archived November 14, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/7nfJp
  11. Rachelle Peterson: Divestment Politicizes Universities,” YouTube video uploaded by user “National Association of Scholars,” November 17, 2015. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  12. Divesting from free speech,” Spiked Online, September 10, 2015. Archived November 16, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/NYZrL
  13. Diminishing Returns,” NAS, May 25, 2015. Archived November 15, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/74wgc
  14. Rachelle Peterson. “Don’t Underestimate The Eco-Worriers,” The Federalist, November 19, 2014. Archived November 16, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/GfeIo
  15. Speakers,” America First Energy Conference 2018. Archived August 1, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/mwtga
  16. About,” America First Energy Conference 2018. Archived July 23, 2018. Archive.is URLhttps://archive.fo/E4Gnt
  17. RACHELLE PETERSON,” America First Energy Conference 2018. Archived August 1, 2018. Archive URL: https://archive.fo/3voFl
  18. Canada’s Crusade Against Fossil Fuels,” NAS, July 20, 2016. Archived November 14, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/oNLQQ
  19. Why They Hate Exxon,“ Weekly Standard, March 14, 2016.
  20. Rachelle Peterson, NAS Sustainability Report Launch,” National Association of Scholars, April 20, 2015. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  21. Pope Francis Discusses Sustainable Development,” NAS, April 29, 2015. Archived November 16, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/4MhXo
  22. Rachelle Peterson and Peter W. Wood. “Sustainability: Higher Educatio’s New Fundamentalism” (PDF), NAS, March 2015.
  23. Author: Rachelle Peterson,” National Association of Scholars. Archived November 14, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/vslw4
  24. Integrity and Objectivity: The Shaken Pillars of Environmental Science,” NAS, July 10, 2014. Archived November 16, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/eXM9D

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