Officials with the University of California system announced on Sept. 9 that they had sold off more than $200 million in endowment and pension fund holdings in coal and tar sand companies. This came as a long-awaited victory for students who had been campaigning for fossil fuel divestment for at least three years.
But for some of us at Allegheny, the celebration was bitter-sweet. For four years students have been urging Allegheny to divest, or remove investments, from fossil fuels, so that we will no longer be funding the injustice of climate change. For just as long, the Board of Trustees, and most members of the college administration, have alternatively patronized and ignored us.
But climate change is not going away, and neither are we. When as broad a range of institutions as Stanford University, the Rockefeller Foundation, which is run by the Standard Oil heirs, the Church of England and the government of Norway have committed to some degree of fossil fuel divestment, the only thing slipping away is Allegheny’s opportunity to be a leader in this movement.
Our reason for divestment remains unchanged: activists have tried petitioning, marching, voting and legislating, among many other things, to combat climate change. We simply do not have a functioning and responsive political process that will undertake this on a sufficient scale. Fossil fuel companies will not be shamed or persuaded to stop polluting. Individual conservation, while important, will not change the system. What we need to do is to take the fight directly to the polluters. Only when their financial power is weakened can we make the political, social, and economic changes we need.
Allegheny’s mission and commitments to social and climate justice demand that we join the rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement. It is not appropriate for a school that takes pride in describing itself as “green,” to continue funding coal and oil. Our trustees are not acting in students’ interest if, hiding behind balance sheets, they sell our futures short to a world of rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. If we care about social justice, we should be alarmed that the impact of climate change will fall most severely on those who can least afford it.
We acknowledge that Allegheny’s endowment is a crucial resource. But divestment makes economic sense. A study by the Aperio Group found that fossil fuel divestment would have negligible impact on a typical university endowment’s risk and rate of return. Furthermore, the future value of the fossil fuel industry is far from secure. Their business model relies on burning all of its fossil fuel reserves, when leading scientists say we need to keep 80 percent of known reserves in the ground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Future regulation to protect the planet could drastically devalue fossil fuels.
Additionally, many passionate Allegheny alumni have stated that they do not want to donate to Allegheny as long as it means putting money into the pockets of big oil and coal. Fortunately, they now have an alternative. Large and small donations can now be made for Allegheny to the Multi-School Fossil Fuel Free Divestment Fund. This fund, which is invested in a socially responsible manner with the non-profit Impact Assets, will release donations that have been designated for Allegheny whenever the school makes a commitment to divest. But if Allegheny has not made such a commitment by the end of 2017, the date at which scientists say we must stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure, the money will be distributed to the general scholarship funds of institutions in the fund which have divested.
The administration and Trustees have thus far ignored their social responsibility in regards to fossil fuel investments. We hope that the incentive provided by the Divest Fund, along with continued student activism, will persuade them to change course. It’s long past time for Allegheny to put our money in line with our values. Please sign our petition at tinyurl.com/DivestAlleghenyPetition, like our Facebook page (AC-Divest), and contact [email protected] or stop by Carr Hall 238 on Thursdays at 8p.m. to find out how you can get involved.