Written by: David Smith and Cody Pitz, SLU EAO Divestment Committee. Re-posted from The Hill News

SLU Divest

Photo Credit: The Hill News

For the last couple of weeks, students on campus may have seen the Environmental Action Organization (EAO) tabling in the Student Center and talking specifically about something called “divestment”. EAO’s new fossil fuel divestment campaign has been in the works since late last semester, and the end goal is to have St. Lawrence fully divest its endowment holdings from the fossil fuel industry within five years.

As an institution of moral, EAO feels that the university should not be invested in companies that exploit people and destroy the environment. This is the basis for the idea of divestment. Fossil Fuel divestment is not a new idea. During apartheid in South Africa, colleges, universities, cities and churches divested in stocks and bonds invested in the South African Regime. The movement grew to create a national and international discussion and through capital flight, South Africa was pressured to end apartheid in 1990. St. Lawrence was involved in this campaign as well as a similar tobacco divestment campaign. St. Lawrence today is still divested from tobacco.

Fossil fuel companies, including oil, coal, natural gas and tar sands corporations are something an institution of moral should not be invested in. The burning of fossil fuels accelerates global climate change, and this leads to sea level rise, more frequent and more intense storms, floods, droughts, and a myriad of other problems that will result in catastrophic and possibly irreversible damage on humanity as a whole and the planet. Living in a society based on oil and gas, fossil fuel are some of the wealthiest companies in the world.  Their practices are still subsidized by the government and the revenue generated allows fossil fuel companies to maintain a dominant voice in our current political system. Limiting the power of fossil fuel companies, will hopefully limit the power they have on legislative decisions and allow for a more sustainable and green future to be built.

EAO realizes that St. Lawrence divesting from fossil fuels will not do a thing to fossil fuel earnings, however it is the message we are sending that is important.  It is a message that will resonate with our peers and other leading institutions of higher education that we believe it is immoral to profit from the exploitation and destruction of human lives and our planet.  With enough institutions divesting from fossil fuels, the campaign will thrust into the public’s view, much as it did during apartheid. Discussion and public opinion is what is needed to make the changes for a more sustainable society.  Divestment is the push our society needs to transition away from fuel sources causing climate change to utilizing renewable energy.

Colleges, universities, cities, religious institutions and organizations all over the world are already involved in divestment campaigns. Several universities have already fully divested including San Francisco State University, Green Mountain College, Unity College, Hampshire College and College of the Atlantic. Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Boulder, Santa Fe, Providence and Ithaca are just some of the cities that have committed to divestment as well.

St. Lawrence touts its self as a sustainable university and markets itself as green to prospective students. The university was recently evaluated in the Sustainability, Tracking, and Assessment & Rating System (STARS), earning a silver rating. The largest dark spot on our report was the section on investments, where we earned a score of .25/16.75. St Lawrence scored 0/2 on ‘Committee on Investor Responsibility’, 0/5 on ‘Shareholder Advocacy’, 0/9 on ‘Positive Sustainability Investments’, 0/.25 on ‘Student Managed Sustainable Investment Fund’, and 0/.25 on ‘Sustainable Investment Policy’.  St. Lawrence did earn full credit on ‘Investment Disclosure’, as the administration makes endowment data readily available, and makes every effort to be transparent and receptive to at least the consideration of alternative endowment ideas.

Divesting away from fossil fuels may seem like a risky ordeal however, investing in fossil fuels is also a risky investment. In fact, other colleges and cities that have previously divested from fossil fuels have seen little to no change in their endowment. According to 350.org, divestment increases portfolio risk by only 0.0034%. On the other hand, 80% of investment managers note that climate change is a risk to their investment. EAO feels that this is a great opportunity to invest in socially responsible, stocks, bonds and funds. In essence, a change from fossil fuel investments to socially responsible ones is an investment long lasting into our future.

Movements such as this one need hundreds or thousands of small parts working together (schools, cities and other institutions all divesting) in order to achieve their goals.  If we are inactive bystanders, we are contributing to the stagnation of the movement by failing to contribute to its growth, and ignoring the moral obligation to withdraw investments from fossil fuels. Action will eventually become expected, the same way divestment from the tobacco industry and South Africa during apartheid became expected, and it would be better to be among the first than the last to divest.

EAO is looking to bring this issue to the attention of Thelmo and the Board of Trustees in hope of a commitment to divestment. Sign the St. Lawrence divestment petition here, and voice your support to the administration, Thelmo and the Board of Trustees. Paper petitions will also be available to sign next week. If interested in working with the divestment committee of EAO please stop by the divestment table around noon in the student center.