Why Divest?

Students around the country are coming together to fight for justice. We want our universities’ endowments to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible funds.

Divestment, or disinvestment is the reduction of one’s economic resources for either financial or ethical objectives.

Global Warming Urgency

Divestment from fossil fuels is crucial, right now in 2012. Scientists, governments, and organizations of all kinds are increasingly sounding the alarm to call for immediate action to stop the massive rate of global warming pollution. A recent report estimates 100,000,000 deaths from climate change by 2030, as well as the loss of 3.2% of GDP by that time. As a result, climate change is wrecking havoc on our lives. World food prices increased 10% this summer because of drought in the U.S. The Arctic ice sheet melted more this summer than at any point in history. Global warming is here. And we must rise to fight for the future that we deserve.

The need to act immediately is imperative.

However, we have five times as much oil and coal already being traded in financial markets as climate scientists think is safe to burn. Fossil fuel companies profit in the face of the massive damage that they inflict on society. We must keep 80% of their reserves locked away underground to avoid runaway global warming. As climate change leader Bill McKibben says, “Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.”

Just to make the science clear, at this point, effective action requires keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just reducing the speed at which it’s burned.

University Responsibility

We believe our university should not be invested in corporations which are involved with the extraction, production, or distribution of fossil fuels. In fact, we feel that through their investments universities are partially responsible for climate change by profiting at the expense of the planet.

Furthermore, the mission of higher education is to provide individuals with the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to have an influence on the world around them. They exist to generate positive influence, and to showcase state-of-the-art technology and morality before its popularized. These schools are investing in our future. Yet at the same time, they are supporting corporations that are actively threatening the future that we envision for ourselves.

It is essential to push universities and colleges to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies, to ensure a better future for their students and the society they hope to lead.

Divestment is effective.

Past precedent exists that proves the effectiveness of divestment. In the mid-1980s, outrage forced an unjust industry to make basic changes. This outrage took the form of a campaign demanding divestment from companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid. It arose first on college campuses and then spread to municipal and state governments, and went on to change the world. In fact, WPI was part of this divestment movement. “The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century,” as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure,” especially from “the divestment movement of the 1980s.”

If a university’s endowment portfolios have fossil-fuel stock, then the educations of that university’s students are being subsidized by investments that wreck the planet on which they hope to make use of their degree. “Given the severity of the climate crisis, a comparable demand that our institutions dump stock from companies that are destroying the planet would not only be appropriate but effective,” says Bob Massie, a former anti-apartheid activist who helped found the Investor Network on Climate Risk. “The message is simple: We have had enough. We must sever the ties with those who profit from climate change – now.” The fossil fuel industry is modern equivalent of these South African corporations

Defending our Planet from Killers

Bill McKibben published a widely read and analysis of important climate change numbers this summer, numbers that directly implicate the fossil fuel industry’s irresponsibility:

…what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. ‘Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops…,’ says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein… ‘But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.’

Let’s make sure we’re on the right side of history. Let’s divest from fossil fuels, today.

Recommended Sources:

McKibben, B. (2012). Global warming’s terrifying new math. Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719
Chestney, N. (2012). 100 mln to die by 2030 if world fails to act on climate. Reuters. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/26/climate-inaction-idINDEE88P05P20120926

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