The Vote Against Divestment

President Salovey said that “greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change is the most important issue that faces the world in our time.” Yet he announced yesterday that Yale will exclude any endowment action from its comprehensive sustainability plan — an illogical move that indicates a severe lapse in moral judgment.

If Salovey speaks genuinely, and Yale does seriously consider climate change as the defining issue of our time, this poses a serious question: Why does it seem fit to continue to profit off of an industry that threatens human livelihood on this planet without taking significant action to redress the social harms of this industry? Why reduce our emissions at home, but still financially support emissions elsewhere?

The truth is that the business model of the fossil fuel industry hedges on the continued exploration for and extraction of fossil fuels, the exploitation of vulnerable communities and the suppression of alternative energy expansion. In making the decision not to divest, Yale endorsed this business model and sent a signal of complacency.

The Yale Corporation’s Committee on Investor Responsibility (CCIR) claims that divestment is a less effective means of addressing climate change than education and research. While we strongly believe that Yale must utilize its resources to add to knowledge on climate change, doing so in isolation does not appropriately address the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis. Divestment addresses the root causes of climate change, and in its capacity to challenge the fossil fuel industry at its core can prevent further carbon emissions and other related social damages. Divestment adds a new level of national awareness on climate change that education and research do not.

Fossil Free Yale by no means wishes to diminish the significance of the six new initiatives announced yesterday by the Yale administration. As the News reports, the six new initiatives are a $21 million investment in energy reduction and greenhouse gas reduction, expanded deployment of renewable energy on campus, disclosure of the University’s greenhouse gas initiatives, Green Innovation Fellowships, school-specific sustainability goals and the consideration of an internal carbon pricing mechanism.

We applaud the University’s commitment to a greener campus. But these initiatives insufficiently address climate change as a global phenomenon. They only serve to distract the Yale community from the University’s complicity in perpetuating climate change and the exploitation of vulnerable communities. Simply put, we cannot compensate for the damage our investments inflict on spaces outside the Yale bubble by greening our campus. We must remember that climate change disproportionately affects people of color, the poor, the indigenous and citizens of less developed countries. To individually wean ourselves off of fossil fuels only accounts for half of the equation.

With the second largest college endowment in the country, Yale has the moral and symbolic capital to make a difference through divestment. As students, we have a responsibility to work with our administration to create a future that is liveable for us and for posterity. This future cannot include a thriving fossil fuel industry. Divestment stigmatizes fossil fuel companies, stimulates dialogue about its role in corrupting politics and opens the social space for real climate legislation.

Buried in the documents released by the administration yesterday, the CCIR states that Yale’s “leadership by example and encouragement among peer institutions” provides gravity to the actions that Yale has decided to take. In deciding not to take a holistic approach to fighting climate change, the University is losing the potential to turn the tide in the fight for climate justice. Yale’s actions around divestment could have catalyzed further response among universities, citizens, private investors and policy makers we desperately need to reach.

Yale cannot shy away from its position, power and privilege in the international fight against climate change. Yale must divest.

– Mitch Barrows ’16, Project Manager of Fossil Free Yale

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