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Dismissal of divestment is not Carleton

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Last fall, I became aware of the work of the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee and the CRIC Report on Divestment of September, 2015. Being rather passionate about our living space on this earth, I was exceedingly disappointed to read the Carleton Board of Trustees’ response to the September CRIC report on divestment. Because of the trustees’ inaction regarding divestment from the fossil fuel industry, only after significant consideration, I have decided to “wash my hands” from contributing to the destruction of the habitable environment of this earth by suspending my contributions to an organization that, in part, invests in and profits from the destruction of our earth’s atmosphere and habitable living space on earth.

I have submitted this article to the Carletonian in order to remind the students at Carleton College of the significant number of alumni who are similarly disappointed with the inaction of Carleton’s Trustees, have contacted Divest Carleton, and diverted their contributions to the college into the Carleton College Fossil Free Fund, a reserve fund that will only be delivered to the college upon its divestment from companies that profit from the destruction of the Earth’s habitable environment.

Dear President Poskanzer and Carleton community,

It is with profound disappointment that I write to the president of my alma mater and to the Carleton community after reading the recommendation of the CRIC Report on Divestment of September, 2015 and the response to this recommendation published earlier this month by the Board of Trustees. Please let me detail my disappointment in the shortsightedness of this decision of the Trustees.

In the Board of Trustee’s report, I read “We believe that reducing the universe of possible investments will have a negative impact on long-term investment returns.” With the wealth of investment opportunities available on the marketplace today, I feel that limiting investment portfolios to those companies not directly involved in the destructive change of the earth’s climate need not have a negative financial impact on the college’s endowment. I have limited my retirement investment substantially by investing only in companies whose business practice I consider socially responsible divesting from producers of all dirty fuels, as well as companies who manufacture military arms, and other industries of my choice. Yet, despite this limitation on my portfolio, my investments have outperformed the S&P 500 stock market average consistently for 15 years! This was done without the input, for which the college must pay, of any financial professionals.

As a trained scientist, I do not have any doubt that investment in fossil fuels is harmful for life on earth. The vast majority of climate scientists (a number of whom are Carleton grads and even friends of mine) agree that the use of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming. As trained a theologian, I know that investment in companies that profit from this destruction is both unethical and immoral. Most followers of almost every religious tradition, having considered this issue carefully, would agree with this assessment. Apparently, Union Theological Seminary also agrees: their trustees recently voted unanimously to begin divesting the school’s entire $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuels. This school’s President, Serene Jones, has called the irresponsible investment in the fossil fuel industry “sinful.”

Not simply myself, but many of prominent financial professionals and institutions have chosen to divest from non-renewable energy resources, not primarily because of the morality of the divestment but rather, because such investments are predicted to sour in the long term. Perhaps it will surprise some of the trustees to learn that Stephen Heintz, head of the foundation started by John D. Rockefeller, believes this also. In a recent article, he is quoted as saying this: “We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.” For this reason, the Rockefeller family, along with a coalition of hundreds of other institutions and individuals, has announced a total of $50 billion in divestments from the fossil fuel industry. Please tell me why the Carleton Board of Trustees believes their financial decisions are better than the decision of Mr. Heintz and the many other institutions which have chosen to divest from this industry.

I consider my personal investments an important expression of my ethical beliefs. They are another means through which I act in our society today. I am sorry that the Carleton College Board of Trustees does not feel the same way regarding the college’s investments and that the college has maintained its investment in companies that profit from the destruction of our earth and all life within it.

In the Board of Trustees response to the CRIC Report on Divestment, I read, “there is no consensus that divestment will not have meaningful fiscal costs.” This statement is, in fact, incorrect! I know that this statement is incorrect because I have ceased my monthly contribution to Carleton College because of their continued investments in these destructive companies. I have also removed the college from my will. I prefer to make donations to organizations that promote the vitality of life on Earth. Because Carleton College, as an institution, has considered and rejected the call for divestment from fossil fuels, I find that my investment in this world’s future is better made elsewhere.

I am greatly disappointed by my alma mater,

Kevin Pettit ‘89
Former Carleton physics professor

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