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The Carletonian

Divestment, Now it’s up to the board

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Thanks to The Carletonian for its recent article on the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee’s (CRIC’s) divestment recommendations. CRIC’s report, which is available on its web site, should be read by all, and is a tribute to what can be accomplished when Carls sit down to work together. A diverse group of students, staff, and faculty came unanimously to the conclusion that, in the face of the catastrophic implications of continuing climate change, divestment is the right course for the college to take, with one member (out of eight) differing only on the issue of the scope of divestment. This is a powerful message and it is one of which the entire college community should be proud.

CRIC’s recommendation is also a timely one. The window of opportunity to keep climate change to an acceptable level is fast closing, while political will to make necessary changes in Washington and abroad is sorely lacking. Meanwhile, colleges, churches, cities, and foundations across the world are divesting from fossil fuels in hopes of transmitting the message that something must be done, and soon. At Carleton, support for divestment is strong and growing stronger. The CSA Senate has unanimously (with a single abstention) recommended divestment. A quarter of faculty members have signed a letter in support of divestment. Over a third of the student body and over 500 alumni have already signed a petition for divestment, and now CRIC, a group created by the Board of Trustees itself to furnish recommendations for more responsible investing, has issued a resounding call to action. The initiative rests with the Board of Trustees.

The Board, which will be meeting on campus October 22nd to 24th, has indicated concerns about divestment. One of the most important of these, in the words of Investment Committee Chair Wallace Weitz ’70, is a disinclination to “insert… the College into public and political debates about what is moral and correct.” But as CRIC’s report points out; “if divestment is a political act, then, given the context of climate change, so is not divesting. The political message of not divesting is that climate change is not a sufficiently urgent problem to apply all possible pressure for action and that the behavior of the fossil fuel industry does not rise to a level of ethical compromise deserving of college action.” In fact, the College inserted itself into the political debate in 2007 when President Oden signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment and explicitly recognized the reality of climate change – a distinctly political move in a country where climate change is still denied by 37 out of 100 sitting senators.

In Mr. Weitz’ words, the Trustees’ fiduciary duty requires that they also “ask pointed questions about whether fossil fuel divestment…risks reducing investment returns.” CRIC concludes that “the financial risk of fossil fuel divestment from Carleton’s direct holdings is bound to be relatively low, if not negligible.” This conclusion is based on a review of existing studies with support from Carleton CIO Jason Matz and the Carleton Investment Office and based on the small role that fossil fuel stocks play in the college’s direct holdings. Several of the studies, in fact, showed a historic advantage to portfolios without fossil fuels. If anything, the real risk to returns seems to lie with continuing to hold these stocks in the face of global efforts to achieve a low carbon world.

CRIC also makes a strong case that divestment will have the desired effectiveness. As the report puts it, the goal is to “accelerate the implementation of climate policy and regulation” by “shifting public perception, reducing the industry’s social license to continue contributing to an unsustainable carbon economy, and creating the space for real alternatives to fossil fuels.” Significant political action on climate change has yet to happen. Divestment is one tool to reduce the political capital of the fossil fuel industry, and thus their contribution to this gridlock.

In March, Mr. Weitz wrote to CRIC, “Carleton’s Board and more generally, the College as an institution has a long history of being reluctant to take positions on issues that are not clearly academic and directly pertain to and materially advance its educational mission.” This supposed reluctance has been much cited as an important factor as the question of fossil fuel divestment grows, despite the fact that Carleton divested nearly $20 million dollars over apart- heid-related concerns in 1978. This chapter of the endowment’s history should be celebrated for its place in a successful movement to better the world, not played down in hopes of stifling future action.

As CRIC concludes, the fossil fuel industry is morally compromised by its work to delay the necessary transition to a low carbon economy by “enabling platforms for misinformation, funding climate change deniers, and obstructing climate action.” The College cannot justifiably profit from complicity with the greatest threat to the future its graduates are expected to safeguard.

The Board will receive CRIC’s report next Thursday and begin its decision-making process. We look forward to engaging them on this historic opportunity and urge all students to read the report and make some statement to the Trustees should the chance present itself.


Soren Schlassa ‘18, Brett Smith ‘64, Peter Samuels ‘09, Dwight Wagenius ‘64, Naomi Price-Lazarus ‘18, Allison Tucker ‘18, Trish Ferrett (faculty), and Bob Dobrow (faculty)


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