Yale Corporation Picks the Wrong Side

wrong side

On Thursday, March 5th, around 80 supporters, friends, and members of Fossil Free Yale rallied outside of Woodbridge Hall.  With speakers telling stories of direct community exploitation by fossil fuel companies,  our rally demanded that the Yale administration announce a plan to address the countless injustices of the fossil fuel industry. We wanted to know whose side Yale was on– the side of students and affected communities, or the side of fossil fuel profits destroying our world.

This request was summarized in a letter delivered to President Salovey and the Yale Corporation prior to the rally.  The letter stated that “the sustainability plan that [Salovey] presented in August does not account for nor can it correct … the direct social harms [of the fossil fuel industry]” and requested the university announce a plan to adjust their investment strategies to account for these grave social injuries. The letter issued an April 1st deadline for the Corporation’s response to see whether they were serious about standing on the side of justice.

On March 20th, President Salovey, speaking for the Yale Corporation, responded to Fossil Free Yale in an email. No part of the response mentioned Fossil Free Yale’s request for a plan to address the social injustices of the fossil fuel industry.  Instead, they issued an update on the sustainability initiatives first announced in August 2014 in the place of divestment. The letter maintained that “These initiatives are not a distraction from the divestment issue.” Yet, the Corporation has again sidestepped addressing the ethics of their investments to focus on Yale’s individual carbon footprint.

Despite ignoring our request, Salovey’s response did recognize that climate change is “without question one of the most critical issues faced by our global community.” He also stated that “Yale has an important role as an investor, but our greatest contributions come from … our leadership by example and encouragement among peer institutions.”

We agree. Today, Yale should lead by example by investing our endowment ethically. It is wrong for Yale to invest in an industry that aims to sell far more carbon than is compatible with a livable future. It is also wrong to profit from an industry whose business model is built upon the destruction of the environment, the obstruction of democratic procedures, and the exploitation of marginalized communities.  We must put people over profit and take immediate action to maintain our University’s commitment to ethical investing.

We asked the Yale Corporation to choose our side, the side of 83% of the student body who voted in favor of divestment, the side of young people facing the prospect of an unlivable future, the side of those marginalized and exploited by the fossil fuel industry.  Their response indicated that the Yale administration is not on our side — yet. But that must change. Action to combat climate catastrophe cannot wait. We are taking action until the administration chooses to become a leader in climate justice and cuts ties with the fossil fuel industry.

 

FFY Rallies and Sets Deadline

BY APRIL 1

On March 5, we rallied to ask the Yale administration to make a choice. The decision by the Yale Corporation not to divest from fossil fuel companies not only fails to address the scale of climate change, but also ignores the ways the fossil fuel industry actively works against the climate solutions that students need and ruins the lives of those who live by fossil fuel production, from mountaintop removal, oil pipe explosions, fracking contamination, and more. Though we sit in a place of privilege, our actions and our investments have consequences around the world. We must be aware of this and realize that sustainability is not enough to address these grave social harms inherent to this industry.

Despite all this, we have faith that Yale can these concerns. To do this, we believe that Yale must account for the harms that its investments support.

We need to know: Whose side is the Yale Corporation on? The side of the students whose futures are at risk and the communities who live the injustices of this industry? Or the side of an industry and business model that profits from exploitation and destruction? We must be clear: if Yale fails to divest from fossil fuel companies, it is not just a continuation of the status quo – it is a clear choice that profits matter more than ethics and student voice.

Our ask was this: By April 1, 2015, we demand that the Yale administration present our community with a plan of action, which will detail how Yale plans to change its investment policy to address the multiple injustices created by the fossil fuel industry. We suggest fossil fuel divestment as a first step in this process.

Read the full letter that Fossil Free Yale delivered to President Salovey and the Yale Corporation:

Dear President Salovey,

As you stated in August, climate change is one of the greatest issues of our time. But the terrible effects of a warming planet represent only part of the grave social injury caused by the fossil fuel industry. To see these impacts, you have to look no further than Bridgeport, where pollution from the coal power plant has caused asthma rates to skyrocket.  Fossil fuel companies harm wherever they operate, when they blow off the tops of mountains to remove coal, when fracking wells leak and pollute water sources, or when oil pipes burst and spill over vast swathes of land or sea.  Inherent to the business model of the fossil fuel industry is exploitation of and general disregard for the communities who live nearby. These practices inflict a direct social injury and cannot be ignored.

The sustainability plan that you presented in August does not account for nor can it correct these direct social harms. Sustainability initiatives at Yale fail to recognize that this is a justice issue as much as it is an environmental issue. Greening our campus does as little for the former fisherman in Louisiana whose shrimp were coated and killed after the BP spill as it does for the former rice farmer in Bangladesh whose patties are too salty to farm now that sea levels have begun to rise. Yale cannot shield its gaze from the reality that the practices of the fossil fuel industry are causing a global catastrophe, the first victims of which are always the poor, people of color, citizens of developing nations, and indigenous communities. Though we sit in a place of privilege, our actions and our investments have consequences around the world. Sustainability is not enough.

Despite all this, we have faith that Yale will make a plan to address these concerns. To do this, we believe that Yale must account for the harms that its investments support.

We want to know: Whose side are you on? The side of the students whose futures are at risk and the communities who live the injustices of this industry? Or the side of an industry and business model that profits from exploitation and destruction? We must be clear: if Yale fails to divest from fossil fuel companies, it is not just a continuation of the status quo – it is a clear choice that profits matter more than ethics and student voice.

By April 1, 2015, we demand that the Yale administration present our community with a plan of action, which will detail how Yale plans to change its investment policy to address the multiple injustices created by the fossil fuel industry. We suggest fossil fuel divestment as a first step in this process, and have attached our specific proposal. We eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

The students of Fossil Free Yale

Fossil Free Yale Calls Out Yale Corporation

FFY members publicly demonstrate against the Yale Corporation’s behavior.

 

On Thursday, February 26, Fossil Free Yale, the student-run fossil fuel divestment campaign, publicly demonstrated to address a Yale Corporation meeting thought to be occurring this week at an unknown location and date. The group called upon the governing body to improve their transparency and accountability to the student body. Beginning at 1:00 PM, students stood together on Beinecke Plaza holding two banners, one asking “Who is the Yale Corporation?” and the other outlining five silhouettes, symbolizing members of the Corporation.  Phrases inside the silhouettes charged the corporation with “ignoring student voice,” “putting profit over people,” “risking our futures,” “denying dialogue,” and “investing in climate injustice.”

The action criticizing the corporation sought to bring attention to the divide between its actions and the values of the Yale community. The group pointed to the Yale Corporation’s lack of transparency, its dismissal of student voices, and its willingness to put short term profit over countless lives at risk through morally impermissible investments in the fossil fuel industry and climate change.

Members say that the lack of transparency or public engagement surrounding the divestment decision is emblematic of a larger devaluation of student voice in official decision-making. In fall 2014, the corporation rejected Fossil Free Yale’s divestment proposal, despite a student referendum in which 83% of students supported divestment. The committee of the Yale Corporation charged with making the decision never once communicated with the divestment campaign, and denied any attempts by the group to meet. Fossil Free Yale is now demanding improved channels of student and faculty communication with the Yale Corporation, and asserts that student voice should be valued in the corporation’s decisions.

The divestment campaign’s concerns are mirrored by other campus groups who find themselves similarly frustrated with a lack of administrative engagement, including those pushing for conversations on financial aid, mental health, and cultural center reform.

Fossil Free Yale’s actions also come within the context of a rapidly growing call for divestment in New England and around the world as part of a global movement for climate justice. With hundreds of campaigns worldwide, institutions from the New School to the Rockefeller Foundation have collectively divested over $50bn from the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil Free Yale Speaks at ACIR Annual meeting

Fossil Free Yale spoke at the annual Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility’s annual meeting this Tuesday November 4th. Fossil Free Yale, an organization that advocates for the university’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry, criticized the administration’s decision to keep investments in the fossil fuel industry and presented its new proposal. Students came out in support holding signs and wearing orange felt squares with black Y’s on them, a symbol of the divestment movement.

This August, on the first day of classes, the CCIR (corporate committee on investor responsibility) rejected Fossil Free Yale’s proposal to divest the endowment from fossil fuel corporations. Last fall YCC held a referendum for fossil fuel divestment in which 52% of Yale College students voted and 83% (2369) of voting students supported the referendum. Despite overwhelming student support members of Fossil Free Yale were never granted a meeting with the CCIR. The CCIR issued a report explaining their decision to reject the proposal, to which Fossil Free Yale has constructed a detailed rebuttal which they presented at the meeting.

In response to the administration’s decision, the group has also adopted a new proposal. This proposal’s goal is to extend the focus to social justices issues associated with the fossil fuel industry, as well as demand greater respect for student voice. The proposal’s goal is to put forth a more nuanced understanding of the fossil fuel industry and its inability to adapt, and to expand our demands to more explicitly accounting for the impacts the fossil fuel industry has directly on communities. Fossil Free Yale is hoping to be more actively inclusive of fights for social justice within the fight for climate justice.

The ACIR agreed to meet again with Fossil Free, as well as request a meeting between Fossil Free Yale and the CCIR.

 

181 Letters Delivered to Woodbridge Hall

On Monday October 6th, the start of Celebrate Sustainability week at Yale, members of Fossil Free Yale stood outside of Woodbridge Hall with letters to deliver to President Peter Salovey. One at a time, each student brought a single letter to Salovey’s secretary, then walked out. The students repeated this for two hours, delivering 181 personally signed letters. In addition, FFY collected 57 signatures from an electronic version. The letters demanded the Yale administration divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies. The full letter is available at https://fossilfreeyale.org

On August 27th President Salovey announced that the Corporate Committee on Investor Responsibility (CCIR) voted against divestment. Fossil Free Yale maintains its stance that it is the administration’s moral imperative to divest from an industry that is disproportionately wrecking the climate and causing irrevocable damages to frontline communities. After being refused a meeting with the CCIR regarding divestment, despite 83% of students voting in support of divestment in a Yale College Council referendum last fall, Fossil Free Yale feels the administration has ignored the students’ voices. Fossil Free Yale demands the administration make a change and engage more with student voices and become a leader on climate justice, not just campus sustainability. The group has been focusing on outreach and momentum building the past few weeks, with Monday’s letter deliveries as one of the first actions this semester. If you are interested in getting involved contact fossilfreeyale@gmail.com.

 

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

83% of Undergraduates Vote Yes to Divest

83 percent of participating undergraduates voted to support fossil fuel divestment. Over 50 percent of students voted.

After over 400 hours of canvassing, campaigning, and communicating, the undergraduate referendum on divesting from fossil fuels passed.  The results demonstrate student support for divestment from the dirtiest fossil fuel companies who fail to improve their practices in a manner consistent with Yale’s ethical investing guidelines.

The referendum passed thanks to the hard work of canvassers, volunteers, and allies.  Fossil Free Yale is immensely thankful to everyone who contributed to the campaign, and looks forward to continuing these conversations in the weeks and months ahead.

Following the referendum, Fossil Free Yale will continue to work with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility to create an ethically and financially responsible proposal for divestment. They will also reach out to the full Yale community of alumni, graduate students, faculty, and staff as they continue to pursue their goal of a cleaner endowment.

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Our Report: Take a Look

Last January, Fossil Free Yale first presented to the Yale University Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) at their annual open meeting. Since then, FFY has been in continuous contact with the administration, and has been working together to formulate a path to responsible energy investing consistent with Yale’s ethical guidelines.

In the past few weeks, the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility has begun considering the following proposal, first submitted last Spring, that asks companies to report relevant ESG metrics.  The committee has asked select members of the Yale faculty to review the metrics described in this proposal. Other metrics are also under consideration.

It is our hope that this report may be useful to other students and investors thinking about how to address the social harm caused by climate change. This excerpt is from our longer report, which explains the logic that led us to the following proposal.

This proposal regarding fossil fuel investments is written within the framework of The Ethical Investor, the guidebook for Yale’s responsible investment policies. The Ethical Investor requires that all options to redress the “social injury” be exhausted before divestment.  The logic behind the Ethical Investor and how it applies to energy firms is detailed in the full version of the Fossil Free Yale report.

Here the proposal from Fossil Free Yale.

FFY Proposal

Here is the comprehensive Fossil Free Yale “Report on Responsible Energy Investing:”  Please read through this report before contacting the authors with questions.

A Report on Responsible Energy Investing

For questions, please contact FossilFreeYale@gmail.com, or the authors of the full report (first.last@yale.edu).

The Ethical Investor can be found here: http://acir.yale.edu/pdf/EthicalInvestor.pdf

Fossil Free Yale: One Year On

FOSSIL FREE YALE celebrates the conclusion of a highly successful first year. While much progress is yet to come, much has already been made. Here is a brief recapitulation of some of the accomplishments of Fossil Free Yale in its first year:

YALE’S ACIR (ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON INVESTOR RESPONSIBILITY)

  • Fossil Free Yale is working toward a vote of approval on divestment from the Yale ACIR, from which point the ultimate decision would lie with the CCIR (Corporate Committee on Investor Responsibility).

  • We have authored a comprehensive report on fossil fuel divestment that numbers over 80 pages and contains new research related to the various pathways to divestment.

PETITION & SUPPORT

  • We have established and are continuing to build a strong network, utilizing the synergy of allied undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, alumni and as many different levels of the Yale community as possible.

  • We obtained petition signatures from over 1000 members of the Yale community: undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni, faculty and staff.

  • We are on are way toward having our student government, the Yale College Council, conduct a referendum on undergraduate support of this issue.

PRESS & MEDIA

  • We created and maintained an extensive online presence

    • our website, fossilfreeyale.org

    • a facebook page (almost 500 likes) that keeps our supporters up-to-date

    • a twitter account that kept us connected to our fellow campaigns

  • We have received extensive and widely favorable coverage in the media, both within Yale and externally

    • fossilfreeyale.org/press-media/

Onward and upward!