Why is burning fossil fuels harmful?

Climate change has a wide rangef impacts, many of which are already affecting lives around the planet.  The Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that 500,000 people die annually due to climate change; this number is only increasing.  The consequences are sweeping and are rooted in the many manifestations of global warming:

  • Warmer air holds more water vapor, which leads to more volatile storms, such as Hurricanes Sandy and Nemo and Typhoon Haiyan. Besides being dangerous, these storms incur massive financial damage; Hurricane Sandy cost $79 billion to clean up.
  • Climate change results in an increased incidence of droughts, increasing food prices and thus global hunger.
  • Climate change increases ocean acidification, destroying marine life.  This negatively impacts people dependent on the oceans.  Given that one in six people world-wide are dependent on sea food from oceans, this is a significant impact.
  • Melting ice and rising sea levels will submerge inhabited islands and coastal areas.
  • Diseases such as malaria, West Nile fever, Dengue fever, and others will have wider ranges, increasing the incidence of infections.

Why is it important to divest?

Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that significant action must be taken within the next decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  This means that every possible solution must be pursued.  Divestment harnesses the power of universities, who occupy a unique position within society as the educators of future generations and the producers of knowledge.

Divestment is a symbolic action that challenges the fossil fuel industry’s social license and signals a commitment to demanding action on climate change, opening a space for social and political change.   Moreover, as part of a national divestment movement, one university’s action supports and is supported by other campaigns. There’s reason to believe divestment will make a difference: 30 years ago, a national divestment movement against companies in South Africa was instrumental to dismantling apartheid.

Why is it important for Yale to divest?

Yale occupies a unique social location.  As an institution with global reputation, Yale’s actions and investment choices have international influence.  Moreover, we have the second largest endowment in the nation: one of every 20 dollars invested by a college is a Yale dollar.  Thus, Yale’s investments have significant influence both alone and as part of a national movement.  Lastly, the Yale Investment Office and Chief Investment Officer pioneered the Yale Model for investments, which revolutionized college investing and is used across the country.  By divesting, Yale creates a precedent and a model for other universities to divest.

What is Fossil Free Yale advocating?

After the CCIR’s decision not to divest and its gross ignorance of the facts at hand, we have changed our campaign’s demands to be more fully in line with the values we hold as an organization. Their response indicates that they misunderstand or choose to overlook the significant categorical distinctions that make investment in fossil fuel industry specifically unethical, and our new proposal seeks to highlight this significance.

Scientific consensus is clear: in order for us to maintain a livable planet, the majority of proven fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. Any business model predicated on pushing us closer to these dangerous and irreversible carbon turning points is immoral and cannot be improved. Our original proposal sought to engage with fossil fuel companies, but engaging with such an inherently dangerous industry is futile and will not create the change we need.

We thus demand that Yale:

  1. Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies
  2. Immediately divest direct holdings in all publicly traded fossil fuel companies
  3. Divest indirect holdings in all fossil fuel companies within 3 years

Additionally, we believe that we must account for the non-carbon consequences of fossil fuel companies, such as the exploitation they inflict upon refinery and extraction communities (like communities where companies conduct mountaintop removal coal mining).

Therefore, we now ask that Yale account for the social injury its investments in fossil fuels have already caused by actively investing in solutions. While not explicitly within the responsible investor guidelines, we demand that Yale redirect divested funds to renewable energy and community-led solutions

Lastly, because our attempt to engage with the administration has been met with and poor communication and little recognition, we ask that Yale institute an improved administrative process for students and faculty to engage with the administration and the Yale Corporation and CCIR, and work with students to develop this process.

How much money is invested in fossil fuels?

Yale’s portfolio is not transparent, so Fossil Free Yale cannot provide definite data on Yale’s investments in fossil fuels.  However, Fossil Free Yale is interested in the 13.6 percent of the endowment invested in public equities.  Yale is only divesting from the dirtiest fossil fuel companies that it is invested in, and it is unlikely that this comprises a significant portion of public equities.

What would Yale reinvest in?

Fossil Free Yale is not advocating for an explicit reinvestment strategy, it trusts in the managers at the Investment Office to make sound reinvestment decisions. It does, however, request the university redirect divested funds to renewable energy and community-led solutions to account for the social injury inflicted through Yale’s investments in fossil fuels.

Where is the divestment campaign now?

This movement is powerful. As of September 2014, 181 institutions and local governments totaling over $50 Billion have committed to divest! These bodies include Stanford University, the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom), Pitzer College, United Church of Christ, the World Council of Churches, and many more. More information on the global movement can be found on gofossilfree.org.

Additionally, our targets, the fossil fuel industry, have begun to respond to us. ExxonMobil released a statement on its website attacking the fossil fuel divestment movement and calling it “out of step with reality.” Clearly, the oil giant is feeling threatened. It looks like our movement is getting powerful enough to challenge their dominance!

As for Fossil Free Yale, following the rejection of our proposal for divestment, we have developed a new proposal, which you can find above.

Why this new proposal?

Our original proposal asked for engagement with fossil fuel companies. However, we realize that fossil fuel companies cannot improve, and so engaging with them is futile and will not create the change we need to see. The majority of fossil fuels must stay in the ground for us to have a livable planet, and this will not happen if we just depend on proxy voting, which is what the Yale Corporation recommended we do to address fossil fuel companies’ involvement in creating climate change.

Additionally, this proposal more explicitly accounts for the non-carbon consequences of fossil fuel companies, such as the exploitation they inflict upon refinery and extraction communities (like communities where companies conduct mountaintop removal coal mining). We are demanding that the university reinvest in communities such as these that are resisting the fossil fuel industry directly.

The original proposal was crafted in accordance with Yale’s own guidelines on investor responsibility. However, this proposal is more fully in line with the values we hold as an organization, upon which we base our campaign for fossil fuel divestment at Yale. We still believe that Yale’s guidelines can facilitate the type of responsible investing we aim to achieve.

Are other universities divesting?

Yale is part of a national divestment movement which has campaigns at over 400 campuses nationwide.  Some colleges that have divested are San Francisco State University Foundation, Hampshire College, Unity College, Sterling College, College of the Atlantic, and Green Mountain College, Pitzer, Stanford (from coal) and University of Glasgow.

In addition, 18 cities have divested (including Cambridge, MA; Providence, RI; Madison, WI; Santa Fe, NM; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; and Seattle, WA).  There are also over a dozen religious groups and churches which have divested.

Would divestment affect fossil fuel companies financially?

Divestment would not affect fossil fuel companies financially.  It would not impede their ability to invest in renewables; it would encourage a movement toward sustainability.  Additionally, it would not increase energy prices.

Divestment instead aims to influence the social capital of fossil fuel companies.  Yale’s investment decisions have significant influence, and divestment would signal a commitment to challenging global warming.

How can we ask for divestment from fossil fuels when we use fossil fuels every day?

The urgency of climate change demands that we take every action we can.  Divestment is one of many necessary tools to challenge global warming.  We shouldn’t wait until one problem is solved before solving the next.

Moreover, Fossil Free Yale’s proposal advocates a stable transition to a sustainable future by recognizing the importance of fossil fuel companies in that process.  By giving fossil fuel companies the chance to improve their emissions intensities, divestment would support a stable transition away from fossil fuels.  Many individuals are engaging in a similar process, but are limited by the lack of alternatives to fossil fuels.  Divestment therefore plays a key role in supporting both a stable transition and sustainable alternatives.