February 7, 2013

Student Assembly Urges Cornell to Divest From Fossil Fuels

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Clarification appended

In a victory for environmental activists at Cornell, the Student Assembly passed a resolution Thursday demanding the University divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry by the end of 2020.

The resolution, which also calls for 30 percent of the divested money to be reinvested in sustainable enterprises, was passed by the S.A. by a vote of 22 for and 2 against, according to former Kyoto NOW! co-president Anna-Lisa Castle ’13.Kyoto NOW! — a climate justice organization — began working on the resolution about a year ago, according to Castle. The S.A. debated the proposal last week, according to S.A. President Adam Gitlin ’13.

The resolution served as a way to put pressure on the administration to invest in sustainable organizations, former Kyoto NOW! co-president Rebecca Macies ’14 said.

Gitlin said that the resolution aligned with the University’s already demonstrated prioritization of environmental issues.

“The administration in many ways has already shown its commitment to sustainability and a greener campus,” Gitlin said. “But this is an important statement from students encouraging the University to invest in a greener and more sustainable future.”

Day Hall administrators and the Board of Trustees will next consider the proposal, according to Student Trustee Alex Bores ’13.

“I think the administration and Board of Trustees are always amenable to student suggestions, but they don’t always agree with them,” Bores said. “We will have to see their conversations in the next weeks and months develop.”


The resolution, which was presented by Castle and Macies at the meeting, touted the benefits of the divestment program. Many members voiced their support for the resolution during the ensuing debate, like Ulysses Smith ’13, vice president for diversity and inclusion for the S.A.

“I agreed with this last week; I agree with it now. [The S.A. has] been approving resolutions that are in support of Cornell’s mission and its green initiative,” Smith said.

However, during the meeting, other members of the S.A. expressed concern about the effect of the resolution on the University’s endowment.

Geoffery Block ’14, at-large representative for the S.A., said that although he supported the principle behind the resolution, he questioned what the effect of the policy would be on Cornell’s endowment.

Bores also acknowledged potential obstacles facing the policy.

“There were a lot of comments [at this Assembly meeting] realizing there were a few snares in implementing [the policy]. There are a number of potential obstacles in its existing form,” Bores said.

In response to questions about the financial impact divestment could have on Cornell’s endowment, Castle cited a study that concluded that the financial risk of divestment has been exaggerated. Castle noted that the resolution did not particularly specify how the divestment should be conducted, which she said will allow the administration to handle the divestment in a manner administrators see fit.

Current Kyoto NOW! co-president Dennis Fox ’15 said that although there were possible issues with divestment that could arise, everyone at the meeting agreed that the University needed to make sustainable investments.

“I didn’t have any problems with the reservations that were voiced tonight. No one disagreed with the principles behind the [resolution],” he said.

Irrespective of opposition to the resolution, Castle emphasized on the importance of being ‘carbon neutral.’

“When we say ‘carbon neutral’, we should mean it,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we should just start recycling on campus; we also want to see that we are not hypocritical by investing millions of dollars in the fossil fuel industry.”

Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Student Trustee Alex Bores ’13 supported the resolution. However, while Bores stated that the resolution is “a great step for the Student Assembly to take,” he said this statement does not necessarily mean that he supports the resolution in its current form.

Original Author: Erica Augenstein