Divestment from fossil fuels (student guest post)
Over the next month, I hope to post some of the highlights from the journals of EES-28 students. If students put together a particularly well-written and thoughtful entry, they are given the option of editing it and putting it here for others in the class (and the world) to see.
Divestment from fossil fuels
College of the Atlantic, Foothill-De Anza Community College, Green Mountain College, Hampshire College, Naropa University, Peralta Community College, Prescott College, San Francisco State University, Sterling College, and Unity College. What do these schools have in common? These schools, along with numerous cities and foundations across the country, have boldly chosen not to invest in any of the 200 largest fossil fuel corporations over the next few years. The campaign for fossil-fuel divestment has been gaining steam since its start a few years ago, and the movement essentially calls for institutions to divest their endowments from the dirty and dangerous fossil fuel industry that has had catastrophic effects on the environment. The fundamental goal of the movement is to have universities and foundations invest in a safe, clean future for current students and generations to come. Nationwide there are approximately 300 colleges and universities engaged in divestment campaigns.
Divestment at Lehigh University
Experts agree that the burning of fossil fuels has and will continue to have catastrophic effects on environment, including climate change, ocean acidification, as well as extraction related disasters, and the recent IPCC report highlights the urgency of these problems.
In September of 2013, Lehigh University joined the nationwide divestment movement. The movement on campus is being led by Lehigh’s premier environmental advocacy group, Green Action. Green Action has called upon President Gast and Lehigh’s Board of Trustees to:
“immediately freeze any new investment in companies responsible for the extraction, refinement, and processing of fossil fuels, and any companies whose sole purpose is to support these aforementioned companies, completely divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include public equities and corporate bonds associated with the companies mentioned above and increase investments in renewable energy companies.”
The campaign has also specifically requested that the Board of Trustees ensures that the next university president is truly committed to sustainable development, and is willing to make Lehigh University a model university by divesting from fossil fuels. Currently many students are unaware of the movement at Lehigh, which is why Green Action is actively trying to generate awareness.
Lehigh University’s endowment totals over one billion dollars, and therefore how it choses to invest these funds should be based on BOTH economics and ethics. The university has recently emphasized sustainability on campus, implementing a nearly 30-page Campus Sustainability Plan that incorporates climate and energy, food and dining services, and building and land use. However, by continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry instead of renewables, the present management of the endowment undermines these activities. Most arguments against divestment center on economics, although several analyses reveal that divestment has not resulted in lower returns on investment, and institutions of higher learning should certainly also consider the ethics of investments. If Lehigh were to successfully divest, they would set a strong example for other schools and become a leader in the effort to slow the rate of climate change. Although Lehigh’s current president, Alice Gast, is on the Board of Directors at Chevron, she will hopefully still be able to lend her support to this campaign.
There is also a petition that allows students to display their support for the divestment campaign. Please support the campaign by signing the petition: http://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/lehigh-university-go-fossil-free