Op-Ed: Vote yes to divest!
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 01:10
Think about how much money you and your parents pay in tuition for a semester at Tufts (or don’t think about it, if it makes you feel sick). If you are a typical first-year student and do not receive financial aid, you are paying approximately $58,780 for this semester.
As socially conscious students, most of us hope that we’re putting all of that money into an institution that cares about our future. Which is why it infuriates me — and hopefully, you too — to know that Tufts invests five percent of its endowment, or approximately 75 million dollars, in the fossil fuels industry. This means that we, as students who attend the school, are indirectly supporting an industry that is destroying our planet. By voting yes to the divestment referendum on Oct. 9, we can let Tufts know that a slightly higher operating budget is not worth environmental catastrophe.
Don’t believe that the climate crisis is that bad? Since the Industrial Revolution, global temperatures have risen 1.53 degrees F. This might seem like very little, but climate scientists warn that any warming greater than 3.6 degrees F may lead to irreversible changes to the climate, the results of which could be catastrophic. In order to stay below 3.6 degrees F, we need to act now. A report released in 2012 by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that even if fossil fuel consumption were to decrease by half, global temperatures might increase 6 degrees C by 2100.
The effects of climate change are being felt right now across the globe. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent assessment report, released last month, global sea levels have rose 7.4 inches from 1901 to 2010, which has been enough to eradicate 1,880 square miles of coastal marshes on the Louisiana coast. Additionally, a 2012 study sponsored by 20 countries found that failure to combat climate change now could lead to 100 million deaths worldwide by 2030.
Faced with these unpromising facts, it would be negligent and inhumane not to act now to address climate change, especially when we have the power to do so. By divesting, we are making a conscious decision not to support the fossil fuel industry. If entire cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland can divest, why can’t we?
Though the amount of money Tufts invests in fossil fuels is small relative to the wealth of these companies, decontaminating our portfolio would not only serve as an economic function. The five colleges that have already divested from fossil fuels — Sterling College, Green Mountain College, Hampshire College, College of the Atlantic and Unity College — all have relatively small endowments. Tufts’ divestiture would demonstrate the viability of institutional fossil fuel divestment on a larger scale, set a precedent for other colleges to follow and continue our legacy as a leader on environmental issues.
Divestment is an economic tactic that has been effective in the past. In the 1980s, colleges and entire cities divested from companies that supported South African apartheid, which ultimately led to the end of this practice. In the 1990s, similar divestment campaigns targeted at the tobacco industry caused tobacco companies to lose money and power. In the early 2000s, college divestment called for action against the genocide in Darfur. In short, divestment works, and it is doable.
All divestment entails is selling stock Tufts invests in companies that extract fossil fuels and in mutual funds that support them. The Tufts Divestment campaign asks Tufts “to request that all of its fund managers apply a negative screen for the 200 publicly traded companies that hold the vast majority of the world’s carbon reserves.”
Financial experts can apply a negative screen to a fund, which is a policy not to invest in uncertain industries, often for reasons of corporate social responsibility. Many funds that colleges are invested in, for instance, already have a negative screen in place to screen out investments in tobacco companies. A similar screen could be put in place for fossil fuels. Negative screens against harmful industries are common practice in socially responsible investing. As an institution dedicated to furthering the human condition, Tufts has a responsibility to be a responsible investor and employ a negative screen against industries which pose a clear and imminent threat to humanity.
It is important to note that divestment will not affect Tufts’ ability to provide financial aid and will not hurt future investments. Numerous studies confirm this. A study released by the investment management firm Phillips, Hager & North concluded that “socially responsible investing” does not decrease investment returns. An analysis released this past January by the Aperio Group, a socially responsible investment-management firm, found that divesting from fossil-fuel companies does not deduct value from a college’s portfolio, and it adds a negligible risk to investors (a less than 0.001 percent risk increase).
Divestment is a small step towards a greener future, so with this referendum vote, we can register our intent to take on the climate crisis here at Tufts. Considering the U.S. Government’s failure to pass significant legislation to combat climate change and reduce our fossil fuel consumption, it is up to us as citizens to show that we will not stand for climate injustice. Come Wednesday, we have the power to fix this growing global crisis. We have the power to influence what kind of world we enter when we graduate. We have the power to vote yes.