Open Letter to the President

President Berkey,

We are writing to inform you that Students for a Just and Stable Future (SJSF) is launching a campaign to divest WPI from fossil fuels, a campaign that we hope you will support. These deadly forms of energy alter the chemical composition of our atmosphere, and these changes make life on earth more challenging. According to a report published by DARA International, an independent humanitarian organization, 5 million people die each year from climate change-related drought, crop failure, and disease. The report goes on to estimate that 1.6% of global annual GDP is lost due to the effects of climate change.1 Because WPI does not disclose its investments, we must assume that WPI invests in – and thus supports – fossil fuel companies. By investing in fossil fuel companies, WPI condones climate change and those 5 million deaths per year. We believe that because WPI is a premier academic institution committed to sustainability, it needs to change this investment policy.

We understand that part of your job is to ensure that WPI is financially secure, and we also understand that maximizing returns on our endowment helps to pay for professors’ salaries, student scholarships, lab equipment, and other noble initiatives. However, we are firm in our belief that financing our education should not jeopardize our future. Any gains in our endowment that destabilize and disenfranchise the future of our planet are counterproductive to the progress of society and must be recognized as irresponsible. Moreover, social and environmental responsibility need not come at the expense of profit. Parnassus Investments, a socially responsible investment management company, has produced average annual returns of 10.60% on its holdings since its inception in 1984. In comparison, the S&P 500 has produced average annual returns of 9.14% over this same time period.2 These figures substantiate the claim that WPI could continue to receive significant returns on its investments and still divest from fossil fuels.

As an institution that is focused on educating the next generation of leaders, our values must be present in administrative decisions. We know this administration has catalyzed great strides in long-term thinking, evident in the sustainability planning that began this spring. Given proper financial backing, this planning will enable WPI to match its actions to its rhetoric on sustainability. Also, during your tenure, environmental awareness has risen markedly on campus, and more students realize the need for conservation and protection of our nation’s precious resources. We congratulate you and share our successes together on these achievements! Now, using the same tactic as the successful campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, in which WPI participated, we are calling on your courage and leadership to divest from fossil fuels.

As part of a national student movement, we have begun mobilizing the WPI community to show support for fossil fuel divestment and responsible reinvestment. We are looking forward to the discussion this will generate on campus and hope to convince you that this is the best decision for the Institution and for us all. We look forward to hearing your thoughts in a response.

Thank you,

Students for a Just and Stable Future

1 Chestney, Nina. “100 Mln to Die by 2030 if World Fails to Act on Climate.” Reuters 26 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.
<http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/climate-inaction-idINDEE88P05P20120926&gt;.
2 “Parnassus Fund.” Parnassus Investments. N.p., 1 May 2012. Web. 4 Oct. 2012. <http://www.parnassus.com/parnassus-mutual-funds/parnassus-fund/
Performance.aspx>.

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