Carleton Faculty letter supporting divestment from fossil fuels

Our Carleton faculty have written the attached letter to the administration and the Board of Trustees, supporting divestment from fossil fuels: “The business model of the fossil fuels industry is on a collision course with the life of the planet.  We cannot in good conscience stay invested in this industry.”  As of today, the letter has 69 signators, and growing.  We are so grateful to our professors for taking this important step.

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Carleton College Faculty Letter Urging Divestment From Fossil Fuels

The global warming crisis has reached a new level of urgency. If more evidence was needed of the destructive consequences of man-made carbon emissions, the Nov. 2, 2014 report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), representing the consensus of thousands of scientists and world governments, spells it out in terrifying clarity. “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases,” the report states, “will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”Carleton College has been a leader in environmental initiatives to promote sustainability and renewable energy. Its efforts at food recycling and composting, green building, and overall reduction of emissions have been important and significant.

Yet at this late hour of the climate crisis more can and should be done.

A consensus of scientists and policy makers sets the bar of 2-degrees Celsius as the maximum temperature rise that can be allowed before facing disastrous and irreversible climate consequences. On the books of the fossil fuel industry are oil and coal reserves that exceed, by three to five times, the amount that could be burned in order to stay within that limit. The math could not be simpler: a vast portion of the known reserves will need to be left in the ground if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

Yet, the fossil fuel industry is moving in the opposite direction. The energy companies are spending $600 billion a year for future explorations (New York Times, Nov. 3, 2014) and moving ahead with continued fossil fuel extraction including increasingly dirty, dangerous, and risky technologies such as tar sands recovery, deepwater drilling, gas from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and coal from mountaintop removal. Companies like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, and the industry group American Petroleum Institute fund the climate denial machine and spend large sums in legislatures around the globe blocking efforts at transitioning to renewables.

The business model of the fossil fuel industry is on a collision course with the life of the planet. We cannot in good conscience stay invested in this industry.

We believe that it is wrong for Carleton to continue to profit from its investments in fossil fuel companies. Inadvertently supporting such a destructive industry is inconsistent with our core values of sustainability and responsible citizenry.

There is a rapidly growing divestment movement in the U.S. and around the world. The movement includes religious institutions, governmental units, non-profit foundations, as well as colleges and universities. It is capturing the energy and enthusiasm of youth on many college campuses and is a welcome antidote to the pessimism and despair that has infected many.

The goal of divestment is to make a strong moral, ethical, political and social statement about the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry in the climate crisis. It is aimed at helping to create the moral and political conditions whereby the industry is held accountable for their actions, in the same way that tobacco companies were ultimately held accountable for the effects of smoking. Such an action will help ignite public discourse on efforts to limit, tax, and ban fossil fuels.

Despite the College’s reluctance to use the endowment for making “political statements,” the dimensions of the current situation are extraordinary, and merit bold action. We simply cannot take a “business as usual” approach.

If divesting the endowment from fossil fuels caused some financial sacrifice
it would still be ethically and morally justified. However, there is growing evidence that the changes and possible dislocation that might accompany divestment can be minimized and may even prove to be economically positive.

If the oil and gas reserves are kept in the ground, as the planet requires, they then become “stranded assets.” There are increasing concerns that a “carbon bubble” could pose significant financial risks to investments in fossil fuels. We recognize that disengaging from fossil fuels will be a complex and challenging task, which is why we propose a five-year timeline for divestment.

Over the past few years there is increasing interest by progressive money managers to find responsible ways for institutions to divest from fossil fuel. Just last month, the global Cambridge Associates, the biggest endowment consultant in the U.S., announced that it would actively support universities interested in divesting from fossil fuels. We believe that if the College shows the strong desire and will to move to an endowment free of fossil fuels, the means will be provided to make that a reality.

An over-arching principle of our endowment management is that it provides “inter-generational equity”, the idea that future generations benefit to the same relative extent as the current generation. But as James L. Powell, former president of both Franklin and Marshall, and Reed Colleges, and former acting president of Oberlin, has stated, “Global warming puts a new slant on the matter. By investing in fossil fuel companies, colleges are using their current financial resources in a way that jeopardizes the quality of life of their future alumni. By any reasoned and humane interpretation, this violates colleges’ professed commitment to intergenerational equity.”

Carleton faculty are nationally recognized for their passion for teaching and their commitment to students. Our students are speaking out on an issue that profoundly affects their future. Over one-fourth of the student body has already signed petitions urging divestment. And the Carleton Student Association Senate has voted 23-0 in favor of divestment. Divestment is a singular teaching moment to show that principles should stand before profits.

Therefore we, the undersigned Carleton faculty, support the efforts of our students and call upon the college to divest from fossil fuel investments at the earliest possible date, and to use these funds to support companies that are providing solutions to the climate crisis rather than supporting those who are helping to cause it.

We call upon the Board of Trustees to
(i) freeze any new investments in the top 200 fossil-fuel companies,
(ii) divest within five years Carleton’s endowment from directly held holdings of fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds,
(iii) initiate an independent study to assess the issue of divesting the endowment from any commingled fossil-fuel holdings.

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