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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Divestment Wins CSA Approval, Heads to Board

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Orange is the new green at Carleton.

It has nothing to do with the changing season, but everything to do with climate change. Orange is the color of the campaign for fossil fuel divestment.

Monday night, the CSA unanimously passed a resolution to support an effort for the college to divest from fossil fuels.

This resolution, which was written by the Climate Justice Coalition (CJC), “doesn’t have any deciding power–it doesn’t force Carleton to divest–but it does send a powerful message about where student opinion lies on this issue,” said CJC member Brent Murcia ’16.

With this signal of student support, CJC plans to go before the Board of Trustees in February and ask them to divest, or withdrawing financial assets, from fossil fuel companies. Divestment would show that the College does not support these companies’ business practices.

“I think the resolution also adds a measure of legitimacy to our movement,” Murcia said. “Now, when we go to the trustees, it’s not just ‘CJC has a petition;’ it’s, ‘the Carleton student body is asking you to divest.’ That’s a big difference.”

Similarly, CJC member Sam Neubauer ’17 said, “While this vote doesn’t bring about a more just world in and of itself, it does send a powerful message that our campus believes in climate justice. Lot’s of incredible work has been done to get us to this point, but we are certainly not there yet. The question is how powerful can students be in the ongoing struggle for justice.”

The College has an estimated $6.4 million of its $780 million endowment directly invested in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Although direct holdings in fossil fuels only equates to 0.7 percent of the total endowment, it is hard to say exactly how much money is in- vested via larger, diversified funds, some of which might support fossil fuel interests. These companies are not disclosed, but rather considered under the umbrella term “comingled funds.”

CJC works to gain student support for divestment. This term, CJC gathered 520 student signatures to support divestment, held an informational meeting, and brought a speaker to campus. Through these efforts, CJC hopes to raise awareness and start a conversation about divestment.

“There’s this notion of Carleton students being the type to think rather than act. I think that’s a notion that we’d like to dispel here. Yes, it’s important to have tough conversations and look at an issue from every angle and truly become informed,” Murcia said.

“But at a certain point, we need to take concrete action if we want to change anything. That’s what we’re doing here with this resolution: taking concrete action.”

Universities remain split on the topic of divestment. Just weeks ago, the University of Glasgow became the first European insti- tution to part with fossil fuel firms, joining a dozen other places of higher education.

On the other hand, Harvard’s policy prohibits using the endowment as a political tool, citing its purpose as only to “advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, no matter how worthy.”

The College has maintained a neutral stance on what it sees as a non-academic issue.

“Carleton’s history does not offer support for divestment. Carleton has been very reluctant to take formal institutional positions on non-academic issues. We are properly circumspect about inserting the college into political debate,” according to President Steven Poskanzer in a letter to an alumnus about divestment.

However, according to a front page article in the May 11, 1979 issue of The Carletonian, the Board of Trustees has inserted itself into political debate. During the era of Apartheid, the trustees approved a proposal to sell Carleton’s stock holdings in Wells Fargo Bank because the bank refused to take a stand against making loans to the South African government and public corporations, according to the article.

Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC), which is a group of faculty and students that present recommendations to the Board of Trustees about the stocks in which the endowment is invested, conducted a survey about divestment last fall.

CRIC found that 53 percent of students sampled believe that Carleton ought to divest from fossil fuel corporations. However, they only sampled 200 students of which 77 responded.

Faculty and staff were less supportive, with 32 percent and 25 percent in agreement, respectively.

At a Wednesday, Oct. 29 town hall, which CRIC hosted, faculty and students, past and present, offered their views on whether or not Carleton’s endowment should be financially tied to oil and coal companies.

Vice president Fred Rogers ’72, who is an ex-officio CRIC member, showed slides of Carleton’s efforts to reduce its carbon foot- print.

“We set as a default date the year 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality,” he said. “Carleton has already reduced its overall emissions by nine percent since 2004.” He also cited the two windmills on campus and the plans to expand the science-building complex without increasing energy as signs of Carleton’s support of renewable energy.

Rogers, admitting to being “totally on the same page” in terms of the damage to the environment caused by nonrenewable resource extraction, said he believes that divestment is more risky and less powerful than working with other stockholders to create new corporate policies.

Many impassioned voices favoring divestment were heard during the discussion, which at times verged on undermining “respectful, engaging conversation” according to CRIC student co-chair Bakhtawar Chaudhary ’15.

“Carleton’s choice is clear,” wrote Laura Bramley ’09 in a letter to CRIC.

“It can be on the forefront of this movement as an environmentally conscious, socially aware institution of thinkers and global citizens, or it can be swept inevitably along later, forced to divest merely to stay competitive and avoid reputational risk.”

Math professor Robert Dobrow asked, “How can we gamble—and that’s what we’re really doing—about our future by staying invested?

“We live in a carbon-based system, there’s no doubt about it, but if we are to take the attitude of boycotting, divestment is where we can strike out.”

Murcia said, “We do great stuff here, but that’s no reason not to do one more great thing. We can do this.”

CJC member Thomas Cahill ’16 said about the CSA resolution, “As we continue to work on campus with students and faculty and off campus with alumni, the resolution helps us gather and consolidate momentum for further action and, ultimately, for divestment.”

Murcia concluded, “We want to engage the whole campus with climate justice, and challenge ourselves and challenge other people to think about all the ways that climate change matters and relates to other issues. All of the events of the last two weeks show that there’s a really strong awareness of this on campus, and that people see climate change as something that they can and should act on.”

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