Quick Take: Is fossil fuel divestment the right move for AU?

Groups like Fossil Free AU have spearheaded a movement to cease all use of fossil fuels on AU’s campus within the next five years. As a student, do you support fossil fuel divestment on our campus?

Time for AU to take action
By Emily Dalgo

If “The American Dream is Green,” we have a lot of work to do. For schools like AU that boast having a sustainable campus, it is hypocritical to invest in and be influenced by companies that negatively impact the environment. For the AU to legitimize its green claims, it must divest from fossil fuels.

Fossil Free AU is a coalition of student organizations, faculty and alumni, but is not an entity in and of itself. According to its website, this student-run coalition has two demands of our administration: “First, immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies by putting a negative screen in the university endowment.” And second, “Commit to full divestment from current holdings in fossil fuel companies in the next five years.” The Fossil Free AU movement on campus is concerned only with divesting the University’s endowment from companies that promote, fund or harvest fossil fuels.

I fully support this movement and think that AU should divest from fossil fuel companies. However, the meaning of the word “divestment” is oftentimes viewed as ambiguous. To clarify, divestment is the opposite of an investment. Two hundred publicly traded companies hold the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves. If our University invests in these companies, we are supporting the expenditure of precious fossil fuels, thus profiting from these companies that are destroying the climate.

The “Go Fossil Free” movement’s motto is “it’s wrong to profit from wrecking the climate.” It’s also important to understand that one does not have to be an environmentalist, a die-hard activist or even a hippie, to support this movement. Climate change is an issue that transcends generational, cultural and national boundaries. Protecting the world we live in should be everyone’s concern.

Will terminating the use of fossil fuels on AU’s campus prevent the melting of the Greenland ice sheet? Will divesting our annual endowment from companies that are burning up the earth’s fossil fuels stop global warming? The simple answer is no. But, taking these steps will make a difference. Through divestment, our University would be taking a stance; we would be saying, “We don’t support what your companies stand for and we will not propagate it any longer.” We can claim to be a green University; we can claim to be sustainable. But actions speak louder than words, and it’s time for AU to take action.

Emily Dalgo is a freshman in the School of International Service.

Divestment is a move in the wrong direction for AU
By Andrew Hunt

Divestment is a terrible strategy not only for its ineffectiveness, but also because it hurts the environmental movement and endorses censorship.

Does a policy of divestment negatively impact oil companies to the point where they will make a change? No. Presently, endowments comprise only 1 percent of total funds invested in financial markets, according to research conducted by the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets. If every single cent of every college endowment were removed from financial markets, it would not come close to impacting the demand for fossil fuels.

Furthermore, divestment has no empirically measurable impact. The Institute of Politics at Harvard University found no impact to companies who had done business in South Africa and were targeted by activists for divestment due to their “endorsement of apartheid.” Thus the policy simply does not achieve its intended effect.

Even if we were to imagine a world where divestment actually worked, it would be impossible to divest fully. Quite simply, we do not live in a world where “stocks that support fossil fuels” and “stocks that do not” are cut and dry. It may be exceedingly difficult to cut out stocks that most definitely support fossil fuels, such as Exxon or any other oil titan. But what about industries that use tremendous amounts of fossil fuel? Aren’t they just as complicit in standing in the way of green energy?

On top of the lack of effectiveness, divestment would set back the mission of environmentalists who seek to develop green energy. Endowments have sacrificed their ability to give companies their inputs as shareholders in favor of trying to start a public dialogue, which may not ever truly reach the ears of the companies in the first place. Now, on top of the fact that demand for fossil fuels has not been affected, all colleges have done is remove their importance to oil companies and limit potential leverage that they may have with oil companies. Furthermore, fossil fuel companies have it in their interest to support or develop green energy with that money, because they too recognize that their time has come when the well will run dry.

The response to my argument will invariably be “public discourse,” that divestment will start a dialogue. In reality, divestment sends the message that universities have abandoned the purpose of endowments, which is to increase their institutions’ capacities to deliver education and increase research, in favor of creating a political conversation with little progress toward the outcome they want to achieve. If we really want to affect climate change as a University, we should use the endowment for its intended purpose, and invest in the environmental sciences. We should use our clout as a research university for good, not sell it out and get nothing in return.

Andrew Hunt is a freshman in the Kogod School of Business

Divestment will benefit school’s ranking and future generations of students
By Michelle Sindyukov

We live in a world where it should be obvious that sustainability is a big concern. Unfortunately, to reduce the use of fossil fuels, even on a college campus, students have to create groups that will fight for a solution, rather than the University creating their own policy towards divestment.

Although Fossil Free AU does not change the economy directly and probably will have a very small economic impact, it does something much bigger for the community; it teaches people the difference between right and wrong. There is no excuse to invest in companies that negatively impact the future for our planet. Just imagine, if all AU undergraduate students are taught that buying and using materials of companies centered around the use of fossil fuels is inauspicious, they will teach their families the same thing. As a result, thousands of people will move towards a fossil-free world.

Some might not understand that if AU becomes fossil-free, then other schools in the area will try to do the same. Projects like these can increase the University’s overall ranking, and if the University is ranked higher, then chances are that more students will know about it and apply here. Through this model, AU and other schools will get more money. Schools are generally proud to be awarded the title of eco-friendly. So, if AU becomes fossil-free, more schools will do the same and all together they will have a bigger impact on the companies using fossil fuels. In other words, if less universities interact with companies that use fossil fuels, the companies will lose revenue because of the decrease in clients.

Looking at the issue pessimistically, we really have no legitimate excuse to keep using the money of these companies. In other words, previous generations did not have the global warming awareness that we have today. However, since we do, why should we use the money of a company that harms us?

AU is considered one of the most environmentally-friendly schools in the nation. However, how can we hold a title like that if we are actively sponsored by companies that pollute our planet? If we want to have a greener future and have AU be known as the school that positively impacted the environment, groups like Fossil Free AU deserve more sponsorship.

To play on Neil Armstrong’s words: One small step for a University, a giant leap for education. Therefore, with all the information out there about global warming, the fact that our campus is one of the greenest in the U.S. and the fact that we can improve our rankings, the answer is simple: Fossil Free AU.

Michelle Sindyukov is a freshman in the School of Communication.

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