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“It is technically feasible to transition to a low-carbon economy. But what is lacking are appropriate policies and institutions. The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.” – Youba Sokona, co-chairman of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Working Group III
Dear President Salovey and the Yale Corporation:
Political will, rather than technology, stands in the way of meaningful action on climate change, and loosening the grip of the fossil fuel industry on our political system and public opinion is a prerequisite to enacting effective policy. Divestment strikes at the very root of this issue, challenging the social license afforded by citizens and politicians that the fossil fuel industry depends on the continued exploration for the extraction of and the burning of fossil fuels; the exploitation of vulnerable communities; and the suppression of alternative energy expansion – all of which are fundamentally at odds with maintaining a livable planet for humanity. In making the decision not to divest, Yale has endorsed this business model and not only refused to acknowledge the disproportionate damage caused by the industry, but also refused to acknowledge that fossil fuel extraction will always be destructive and immoral.
Only by fundamentally shifting the sociopolitical landscape can we create the conditions necessary for the techno-economic overhaul of our global society that is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. One line of reasoning put forth by the Corporation appeals to Yale’s image as an ivory tower, an educational institution above the political fray; and thus any climate actions should be addressed through education and not through political tools like divestment. However we tend to agree with former Harvard president Derek C. Bok, who wrote, “The ‘ivory tower’ has been breached at so many points and the connections with the outside world have grown so numerous and close that the term no longer has descriptive value.” Cultivated relationships with donors, businesses and governments for political purposes are abundant and must be acknowledged. He says every university president knows this, and we assume President Salovey does as well.
At Fossil Free Yale, we believe that the University’s most potent weapon against climate change and its related social harms is the Yale brand – a brand which has grown from the very political connections mentioned above. Yale rightly takes pride in its on campus sustainability measures, but we believe that Yale can and should do more. Yale maintains a more politically entrenched position in society than the CCIR admitted to on August 27th, 2014. The tremendous moral, social and political capital wielded by this University have the power to turn the tide in the divestment movement, and as a result the movements fighting for political solutions and broader climate justice. History has demonstrated the role of divestment as a bottleneck for social issues, heightening public awareness, applying stigma and paving the way for institutional action and legislation. Divestment is consistent with Yale’s values and investing guidelines, and would allow the Yale community to make the greatest impact possible on climate change by targeting the industry standing in the way of a mass exodus from carbon intensive energy. However Yale must first acknowledge the clout it wields, and the absolute necessity of using its tremendous clout to ‘target’ fossil fuel companies.
University presidents have overwhelmingly recognized and warned of the harm caused by fossil fuels, including our very own. Though some, including the President of Brown University Christina H. Paxson, have argued that “this harm is moderated by the fact that coal is currently necessary for the functioning of the global economy.” Fossil Free Yale will not contest the latter part of this claim, but we will reject the former part outright. The industry is not merely fulfilling a consumer need – they have an undeniable role in perpetuating the demand for and reliance on their products. We as students, sons and daughters, friends, future mothers and fathers, citizens of this nation and of this planet refuse to live in a world where fossil fuel companies and their cronies render politicians paralyzed, decimate communities, funnel large sums of cash into supposedly democratic elections, flood the airwaves with deceptive messages and spend millions on lobbyists that secure billions in subsidies. We see no place for Yale investments in the fossil fuel industry, period.
All of us at Fossil Free Yale remember the words echoed by presidents, deans and professors during our first few weeks of freshman year, “Yale educates the leaders of tomorrow.” We urge the CCIR, President Salovey and the rest of the Yale Corporation to listen to the voices of the leaders you claim to be educating, to do every possible thing to help leave us a livable world to lead and to reconsider your collective decision to forgo divestment. Our futures depend on it.