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2013 Winter Issue 4 (February 8, 2013)

Students Call for Divestment in “Unethical” Companies

February 12, 2013
By Ben Strauss

This year, some students have started an online petition calling for Carleton to divest from fossil fuels. They believe divestment reflects Carleton’s goals, supports the environment and continues Carleton’s tradition of leading by example.

Last Tuesday, Wellstone House held a discussion on the petition attended by both proponents and opponents.
Opponents believe Carleton needs to invest in fossil fuels to strengthen its endowment and that fossil fuels have become an essential part of our economy.

Proponents of the petition argue that divestment from fossil fuels will help improve our world. “As an alumni I believe that Carleton should divest from fossil fuels in its endowment because…the extraction, refining, and burning of these fuels poisons our air with toxins, releases greenhouse gases and often funds despotic monarchies like Saudi Arabia,” said David Holman ‘06.

The petition also reflects Carleton’s goals as an institution according to proponents. “…divesting from fossil fuels is directly in line with Carleton’s commitment to combating climate change. While Carleton seems to shy away from taking political stands, we have already pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. Carbon neutrality is a great goal,” said Luke Hellwig ‘15, a resident of Wellstone House.

Proponents also want to support environmentally friendly companies and reject companies that harm the environment. “Re-investing in climate conscious companies will not only support companies that are also taking climate change seriously, but also send a message to companies that continue to exploit the environment without regard for the future of our planet,” said Hellwig.

In addition, fossil fuels will soon become antiquated energy sources according to proponents of the petition. “Fossil fuels are yesterday’s fuel and by continuing to invest in what seem like stable companies, our endowment managers actually do students and alums a disservice by missing more lucrative investments in non-toxic assets like the clean technology of the future,” said Holman.

Finally, proponents of the petition argue that Carleton needs to lead by example. “It seems to me that Carleton does a really good job of leading by example. We built a climbing wall, and St. Olaf followed suit! But in all seriousness, we built a windmill, St. Olaf followed suit, and then we built another,” said Kellie Carim ’06.

In contrast, according to opponents of the petition, investing in fossil fuels strengthens Carleton’s endowment. “Some of the best stocks to invest in are from companies who rely heavily on fossil fuels,” said Fay Li ’13.

Opponents of the petition argue fossil fuels have become essential for the modern economy. “While it is true that fossil fuels are a limited resource, they are also a resource that we, as a society, can’t function without,” said Li.

Fossil fuels have many important uses besides transportation and energy according to opponents of the petition. “Think about it. All plastics require fossil fuels to be produced - so do things like sports equipment, heating, and medicine,” said Li, “Petroleum jelly, a key ingredient found in make-up and lotions (among other things), can only be derived from petroleum -- a product of crude oil.”

Furthermore, Carleton does not release its financial records, so opponents to the petition argue that students need more information before they sign it. “I don’t think we have enough information to even evaluate where we’re divesting from and if it’s even feasible,” said Li.

Carleton does release the top ten companies in which it invests. These include Microsoft, Comcast, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart and Phillip Morris International, a cigarette company.

The college itself officially rejects divestment. According to the Carleton College Statement on Fossil Fuel Investment, “Carleton does not have a policy of divesting, or of supporting divestment.”

Instead, Carleton tries to help the environment in other ways “The College does, though, take very seriously the impact of fossil fuels on the environment. Carleton has built two wind turbines which supply the equivalent of 60% of the College’s electrical energy needs, directly reducing the amount of fossil fuels consumed. Carleton has also been a leader in energy efficiency and continues to strive to reduce its carbon footprint” according to the Carleton College Statement on Fossil Fuel Investment.

In addition, Carleton uses its investments to influence companies to become more environmentally friendly.

According to the Carleton College Statement on Fossil Fuel Investment, “With respect to our specific investments, the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee reviews the public stock portfolio of the endowment each year and seeks to ascertain where there are opportunities to advise companies which we own about specific values and objectives of the College…and will continue to seek opportunities to directly influence the companies we own to advance the goals of global sustainability.”

At the end of the day, students must decide for themselves whether or not they support Carleton divesting from fossil fuels and what actions they want to take--for there are no easy answers.

Comments

  • May 30 2013 at 4:21 pm
    Kenji Spielman
    One of the main points that is not discussed in this article is that fossil fuels have a large potential to become "stranded assets". It is well established that if we burn all, or even a sizable percentage of the fossil fuels that are held in reserve in the ground we will push the world to very high levels of warming. As we transition away from a fossil fuel based economy and stop allowing the burning of fossil fuels these reserves will rapidly lose their value. Divestment is simply good investment strategy, as though these fossil fuel based companies have performed well in the past it is far from given that they will continue to do so in the future.

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