Letter to the Editor

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Divestment Folly

To the Editor: 

Climate Justice Cornell, a campus organization agitating for Cornell University to divest its endowment from energy companies, recently hosted socially responsible investing specialist Katelyn Kriesel to discuss the economics argument for fossil fuel divestment. As a skeptic of politically-motivated divestment campaigns, I was curious to hear the financial case for why endowments should liquidate any holdings they have in energy companies. Historically, the primary obstacle to endowments adopting an anti-fossil fuel stance is the pesky phrase “fiduciary duty.” In a nutshell, fiduciary duty obliges trustees to act in the best interest of the trust beneficiaries, which in this case means maximizing the risk adjusted return of Cornell’s endowment.  Adopting the stance advocated by CJC would entail a blanket mandate to eschew the energy sector, which could trigger legal action since one could argue, with some justification, that a categorical sector ban may not align with beneficiaries’ interests. Realizing this, divestment advocates take a different tack by building a so-called “financial case” for the university to divest.  As Ms. Kriesel outlined, the energy sector has underperformed the S&P 500 index in the past several years. (For the sake of argument, we will ignore the half a dozen errors in her methodology which used three prominent energy companies as a proxy for sector performance, the S&P 500 as a benchmark and disregarded dividends and risk.) On the basis of this information, she argues, universities should divest because energy companies have performed poorly in the past.

Letter to the Editor

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Cornell Continues to Stall Fossil Fuel Divestment With Flimsy Arguments

To the Editor:
In the last week, Cornell has made two public statements to congratulate themselves on their sustainability efforts and deny the need for fossil fuel divestment — without addressing the student protests which incited these statements. The University can and must divest from fossil fuels, and campus sustainability efforts are not an acceptable substitution. The University’s recently-released Fossil Fuel Divestment FAQ states that the Board “will consider a proposal for divestment from the Cornell community when either the President forwards a resolution from one of the shared governance assemblies, or all five of the assemblies support such a resolution.” However, the Board of Trustees can take up the issue of divestment on their own (as outlined in the process for divestment they developed when deciding to continue investing in fossil fuels in 2015), and they will if they have a conscience about climate change or consideration for the campus community. A report prepared by the Campus Infrastructure  Committee of the University Assembly, which the University’s FAQ links to, already highlights many powerful arguments for divestment, and it is a shame the FAQ didn’t discuss them further. However, the FAQ did provide two flimsy arguments against fossil fuel divestment.