April 3, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Divestment

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To the Editor:

Every prospective student tour group I see on campus has been about hearing how Cornell University still has oil, gas and fracking investments. For Cornell to put a lot of energy into sustainability efforts is wonderful. Such initiatives though, need to have the support of the Cornell Board of Trustees with their decision remove all University investments, to divest, from fossil fuels.

Cornell Trustees have thus far chosen to ignore the advice of experts as well as the representative faculty and student bodies on campus and are only looking at the financial bottom line. Perhaps the Trustees will at some point realize that doing the right thing, de-investment from all fossil fuels, will be good for PR and marketing to potential students, while also maintaining the positive bottom line. There are non-fossil fuel investments that have similar returns as oil and natural gas investments. Cornell has already divested from coal — there is no reason to cling to the fossil fuel investments any further into the 21st Century.

I urge every member of the campus community who has concerns about climate change and is proud of Cornell’s other efforts on issues of sustainability, to talk to the tour groups on campus. Tell them how Cornell is profiting from climate change. Be sure that students and their families, when considering whether to invest their time, energy, and money into an education at Cornell, hear the term and get a chance to look up the word #DIVESTMENT. Hopefully, incoming students and their families will have follow-up climate change-related questions for the University to address.

To the Board of Trustees: there is a growing resistance to your inaction on this topic. Divestment is the way forward. It’s time to complete the picture of Cornell University’s leadership on sustainability and climate change. Trustees: now is the time for divestment.

Daniel Keough grad

16 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Divestment

    • Good point! Our principal uses for fossil fuels are car fuel and power plant fuel, some plastics are also made from fossil fuels but the volume used in comparison is trivial. Therefore!!

      I would strongly encourage all divestment supporters to do 2 things:

      1. If you have access to your home power bill, visit http://www.arcadiapower.com. This site allows you to offset any fossil fuel power you use with green power using RECs. Arcadia uses wind power for RECs. It costs about $5 a month to clean up your power bill.

      2. If you have the financial means, get an electric car!! Used LEAFs are $20k, and they do everything a normal car does except road trips. If you do not have the financial means, get a used Prius. They are dirt cheap at $5k, and the gasoline savings alone will make up for the low payments.

      Divestment supporters, we need to put our money where our mouth is! That is how we will change the system!!

      • EVs are better than driving gas cars, yes, yes, but in real life, “all else being equal” when you buy a 35k Tesla are you going to walk 1/2 mile to the store for 2 small items are you going to drive there to show everyone how “green” you are?

        Electric cars for an individual are a good investment in more driving. I choose to live closer to places that I need to get to and bike, walk, and take the bus as needed. There is little incentive in the United States for those who own a car for them to drive it little–especially with cheap gas prices and absolutely with electricity being a lot cheaper per mile than gas.

        Put your lifestyle choices where your mouth is! Drive fewer miles, get rid of one family car or eventually be car free. Not everyone’s job or situation allows for this, but people choose to live in walkable places, or choose to live in suburbs.
        Animal product consumption is also a huge use of resources:
        liquid fertilizer is made of natural gas. Animal Ag is VERY inefficient and responsible for perhaps 1/2 of someone’s carbon/methane hoof-print.
        Eat less meat, dairy is unnecessary. Fewer animal products, more local in-season whole foods lowers your energy use and emissions. Don’t forget about the cow in the room.

    • The letter does not tell anyone to stop using fossil fuels. The letter is about **financial investments**, such as mutual funds.
      I first have minimized my energy use by driving steadily less each year and by giving up my personal motor car 5 years ago. Equally as important I gave up eating animal products. I have made many changes to reduce energy use, and continue to learn new ways. I challenge you Avrum, to criticize me for using fossil fuel, I hope you have also taken action in your life.
      The University has energy needs and will not suddenly be able to provide all the needs via shrinking those energy needs through better managements and efficiency as well as use of renewables. E.g. many unreasonable concerns even locally about the Black Oak wind farm that some are trying to stop–they would prefer burning coal forever, apparently. No energy source is without cost, some level of impact.

      • Daniel, I don’t go around trying to convince others to give up investments in the producers of such energy because the negative ripple effect of such actions outweigh the benefits. Such divestment actions will simply hurt too many.

        • Do you have evidence of such a wild claim? How will it hurt? Cornell has already divested from coal, 7 years ago. Other institutions have divested from oil and fracked gas–all fossil fuels as well, not to invest in green energy per se, but to invest in many other options on the market. There are funds that give similar returns to fossil fuel investments.
          Over time as it gets even more risky to drill, higher clean-up costs when of course they spill again and again, and with many people getting behind the divestment campaign the fossil fuels companies will not have so much value.
          Who will be “hurt” Avrum?
          In the coming decades as more people, entities, nations transition out of fossil fuel USE, of course other energy suppliers and those jobs and those markets will increase. The horse-drawn carriage market was “hurt” because another market displaced it over time. Markets change Avrum.

          • I think he is talking about lost livelihoods for coal miners and common people in the fracking industry. It is a negative ripple effect when entire coal communities shut down. There is a way to fix this, though. We need to open more solar plants on top of those dead coal towns. The coal miners need another source of income, and solar panel production can provide that. Just block the cheap Chinese panels with tariffs, so only locally made solar panels can be sold. That drives up the cost of solar, but sola/wind is rapidly becoming the only option as fossil fuels are no longer legitimate sources of energy.

            The point is we can’t forget about the coal towns that get shut down along with coal power. We also need battery factories to keep those solar panels going when the sun goes down, those can be opened on top of coal plants and coal mines too.

    • …and while we’re at it, let’s get all the hospitals to stop using electricity created by fossil fuels, and let’s get all the schools to do likewise, and let’s get all the…

      • Yes please! They should all have solar panels with battery backups. Also instead of batteries you can use wind power, since it is often windier at night, and with a wide enough distribution network, you can shunt power from where the wind is blowing to where the wind is calm.

        Fossil fuels were great in the last century, before we knew about climate change and all the health risks and environmental problems. It was good for its time to use coal and oil and gasoline. But now it is time to shift to more advanced technology, now that we understand the risks.

      • “Divestment is the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. When you invest your money, you might buy stocks, bonds, or other investments that generate income for you.”
        gofossilfree.org/what-is-fossil-fuel-divestment/

  1. Taxes on fossil fuels should be raised so high that only wealthy people can afford to drive or heat their homes. Air conditioning should be made illegal. The millions of people who derive their living from fossil fuels should be jailed. We should create an economy ten times worse than what we experienced in the great depression. *DIVEST*

    • Taxes on fossil fuels should be raised through the roof! And the revenue from those taxes should be used to build solar panels and wind turbines, so that everyone can run their air conditioners and electric cars without screwing up the environment!

      The millions of people who derive their living from the fossil fuel industry should be moved to solar panel production plants, and wind turbine plants. Open these plants in dead coal mining towns and they will come back to life!! The fat cats at the top should wrap it up and retire on their millions. That way nobody gets hurt! At least in the short term, producing all this green power equipment produces lots of economic opportunity!!

  2. Everyone is missing the bigger point. The university is run by the Trustees. Period. The notion of ‘democratic governance’ is a joke. The President is a trustee boot-lick toadie, and anything the faculty senate does falls on deaf ears. Only people with multi-million-$$$ worth of influence (requisite for most of the Trustees) get any say at Cornell. And, said rich-folks only think bottom line (how do you think they go rich in the first place)? Do you think they’d every do anything simply because it was ‘the right thing to do?’. I mean, really?

    • Good point! Which is why divestment groups need to engage in direct, visible activism. The fat cats are never going to do this on their own. They will need to be inconvenienced or exposed enough to just shut the divestment crowd up. Every negative news story, every sit-in that disrupts daily affairs, every act of visible protest, like hacking the webpage with a divestment message or hanging a banner, creates pressure on the governing group to just make the issue go away. All they have to do is agree to a long- term divestment plan and the protests will cease. Money and ethics rarely mix. Divestment groups will need to be loud enough that they are essentially paid to shut up with the lost fossil revenue.

      But once those fossil shares are sold, the funds can simply be re- invested in other stocks. So why all the fuss? The fat cats can realize that the fossil money was fine a few decades ago, but is now considered ill-gotten gains.

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