Op−Ed | The case for divestment
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 08:10
As evidenced by this week’s presidential debate, our political leaders are not talking about the most pressing issue of our generation: climate change. So far, there has not been any adequate legislation or proposals from either side of the political aisle to help avert catastrophic climate change.
But even more frustrating than our politicians’ ineptitude is Tufts’ support of fossil fuels, by, most likely, investing part of our $1.45 billion dollar endowment in the industry. Tufts has roughly half of the endowment invested in equity, but does not disclose which companies it invests in. Many schools of similar size have invested 51 to 20 percent of their endowments in the fossil fuel industry. By this logic, it is a safe estimate to say that Tufts has invested between $100 and $150 million in oil, coal and gas companies. While the purpose of endowment investing is to maximize returns, fossil fuel investments seem strikingly incompatible with the high value Tufts places on environmental sustainability.
As an institution dedicated to educating leaders for the future, it is unacceptable for Tufts to invest in fossil fuels. In the words of Bill McKibben in the now−viral Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” if a college’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels, “[the students’] educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree.”
Fossil fuel companies are uniquely positioned to alter the physics and chemistry of the planet just for the sake of making a profit. The UK−based Carbon Tracker Initiative estimates that oil, coal and gas companies have five times as much carbon in their reserves as is safe to burn. If burned, our planet would heat up at by at least 5 to 6 degrees Celsius, well beyond the 2 degrees Celsius limit agreed to by the international community in 2009. When Tufts invests in a corporation and provides it with capital to operate, the money is not only used to drill for more oil and strip mine mountains for coal, but also to influence the energy policy of the United States. During the 2008 elections, oil companies alone spent a staggering $132.2 million on federal lobbying, used in order to kill climate change legislation and advocate for approval of the dangerous Keystone XL Pipeline, among other environmentally harmful directives. Is this how we want our tuition money to be used?
Divestment, the removal of investments in socially irresponsible companies for social and environmental reasons, is not a new concept on college campuses. Throughout the 1980s, 155 colleges and universities divested themselves of the portions of their endowments that were invested in companies doing business in South Africa with the apartheid regime. This movement gained national attention, inspiring dozens of cities and states to take similar economic action in the effort to end apartheid. Divestment added necessary political pressure to South Africa, and brought the injustice of apartheid into the public consciousness. Roughly 30 years later, a similar movement is garnering the same kind of momentum — one focused on climate change.
We understand the importance of Tufts’ investments to the operation of our university and to the quality of our education. We are convinced that divestment from fossil fuels is critical not only for the future of our planet but for the long−term stability and growth of the university’s funds, since in the long run fossil fuel stock will not continue to be profitable as global oil supply diminishes. Studies by financial experts such as PH&N Investment Services have concluded that socially responsible investment does not harm returns.
Of all the environmentally conscious actions Tufts students could decide to take, the push to divest from fossil fuels will have the greatest impact. The significance of turning off lights when leaving a room or deciding to bike instead of drive should not be ignored, but this pales in comparison to our school’s massive investment in the very industries that pollute the atmosphere and actively work to prevent a sustainable future. The Mission & Strategy page of Tufts’ website ensures that the institution will “strive to be a model for society at large” and “welcome change and innovation, continually improving quality in every aspect of the University.” It is time for Tufts to live up to its values.
Hampshire College just announced that it will divest from fossil fuels; it is the first college in the country to do so. If Tufts follows suit, not only will we be living up to our own standards of social awareness and active citizenship, we will also show that we are real leaders in the transition to a sustainable economy. Tufts could also increase its fundraising and attract forward−thinking students and faculty by being the leader in a sustainable future. We believe Tufts’ divestment from fossil fuels could even be a selling point used by our admissions office.
Last Friday, students who are working on the divestment campaign met with officials from the Tufts administration to share our proposal. While they respectfully listened to our demands, and were interested in the idea in theory, we were told that Tufts outsources our investments to fund managers, so it would be virtually impossible to divest. However, this is not a valid excuse. Via the fossil fuel fighting organization Better Future Project, Junko Yoda, an advisor there and former Vice President of Goldman Sachs, has told our campaign that with an endowment of our size, fund managers can create a diversified, fossil−fuel free investment strategy. We pay a lot of very smart people a lot of money to manage our endowment, and we do not accept the excuse that it is too difficult simply because Tufts hires external investors.
We must take climate change seriously as a school. The science is in: Global warming is happening, and it is already taking a devastating toll on people’s lives and on our economy. We must divest from the industry causing it, not only for the self−interest of the school, but also for our future.