KyotoNOW!, along with students from 230 other campuses across the country, are calling for the divestment of university endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry. On Thursday, the Student Assembly passed “Resolution 32: Toward a Responsible Endowment” in support of the campaign. This movement is gaining momentum as an increasing number of universities respond to the moral crisis of climate change. And let me be clear: The climate is changing. But more than just the atmosphere is at stake; we risk continued economic losses, new natural disasters and unjust human suffering around the world with continued inaction on climate change
Although there are many sources of greenhouse gases, the main sources are fossil fuel extraction and combustion. Fossil fuel companies also fund anti-science climate skeptics and misinformation campaigns, while lobbying aggressively against pragmatic climate legislation. This industry does not play by the rules. They do not deserve our money.
Divestment does not have to hurt our endowment. In fact, divesting from fossil fuels can be seen as a sound financial decision. A recent study by the Aperio Group, an investment management firm, found that screening investment portfolios for fossil fuel companies and divesting from them would have an overall negligible effect on returns. Along with this idea, the long-term rationality of investing in fossil fuels is increasingly coming under question. A report by HSBC predicts that the coal, oil and gas industries will become risky investments in the future as climate mitigation strategies are implemented. By 2035, coal consumption is expected to fall 30 percent and oil by 12 percent. That means prices will go down. High-cost projects (which are also high-cost to the climate), such as tar sands extraction, have the highest investment risk. Hurricane Sandy cost over $40 billion; climate change is a bad investment.
Alternatively, renewable investments are producing high returns. Green revolving funds are raking in 30 to 47 percent returns at universities like Harvard, University of Colorado and Western Michigan. On Thursday, President Skorton announced that the University will invest $1 million in our new green revolving fund. This is a step in the right direction and it demonstrates that Cornell is willing to put its money where its mouth is.
Skeptics argue that divestment is misguided and it will have no impact on climate change. It is true that divesting Cornell’s endowment will not cause Exxon and Chesapeake to go out of business. However, widespread divestment will stigmatize the industry. As Kirat Singh mentioned in his Sun column on Wednesday, during the South African divestment movement, many companies divested to avoid being labeled as discriminatory. Wouldn’t it be incredible if the fossil fuel industry had a similar stigma? “Oh, you fund fossil fuel extraction? I’ll take my business elsewhere.” Divestment puts an idea in place that can start a movement. Singh rightly argued “You Only Divest Once,” and with the support of 230 other campuses and international climate change advocacy groups, now is the time. The climate will neither repair itself, nor will fossil fuels be replaced with sustainable energy, if we do not put pressure on dirty energy industries. Most scientists agree that we, as a planet, are approaching a tipping point in the climate battle; if a movement to divest were to exist, like it did for Apartheid thirty years ago, it should be now, not later.
Divestment is just one of many tools we can and should use to fight the fossil fuel industry. As students, this is something we have the power to do. We don’t need to wait until we graduate to fight for what we know is right. The passing of this resolution shows we have broad student support. Now it is time for the administration and the Board of Trustees to respond. The University cannot be impartial on this issue. Cornell either supports an immoral, destructive industry, or it doesn’t. Let’s think about the future; let’s think about the long term impact on our climate and our endowment. Divest now, Cornell!
Julia Fiore is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.