Endowment Use on Fossil Fuels

Various universities around the country are reconsidering the way they use endowments on fossil fuels.

To read more about fossil fuel endowments on campus, read Copy Editor Carly Barnhill's article.

Most people would agree that it is wrong to knowingly harm the environment. Is it not, then, worse to profit from such actions, fully aware of the damage being done? At Divest Harvard, a rally which was held on Sept. 16, Harvard alum and journalist at The Nation, Wen Stephenson, had this to say: “Given what we’ve known about climate change for decades, to willfully obstruct any serious solution is to knowingly, willfully allow entire countries and cultures to disappear. It is to rob people of their land, their homes, their livelihoods, even their lives and their children’s lives – and their children’s children’s lives. For profit.” As fossil fuel companies like Chevron, Exxon and Peabody Coal spend millions of dollars lobbying against clean, sustainable energy solutions and continue to burn carbon, environmental conditions worsen. Investing in the roughly 200 publicly traded companies that control the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves – an action starkly contrary to the third pillar of LMU’s mission statement – perpetuates global injustice.

So what are we asking for when we demand divestment? To put it in the simplest terms, divesting is the opposite of investing. The university gets an endowment, comprised primarily of major gifts and alumni donations, which they then invest in other companies in an attempt to grow the University’s funds. 350.org, the project of Bill McKibben, whom Time magazine dubbed “the world’s best green journalist,” calls on institutional leaders to “immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.”

Fighting against fossil fuels has always been a David and Goliath conflict. However, momentum for the divestment movement is building not only across American universities, but also on a global scale, with efforts in India, the U.K. and many more countries. In our own country, divestment is not just the naïve dream of hopeful and optimistic college students. Six colleges, 18 cities nationwide – including Santa Monica, CA – and many other organizations have already committed to pursuing fossil fuel divestment.

There have been successful divestment campaigns against Darfur and Big Tobacco, but most notable was the campaign involving the South African Apartheid of the late 1970s. This began with 155 college campuses pulling their money from multinational companies that were doing business in South Africa. Shortly after, 26 state governments, 22 counties and 90 cities followed suit. This action, sparked by university students, played a key role in bringing the apartheid government to its knees and paving the way for democracy and equality in South Africa.

Of course, divestment won’t be the end of fossil fuel companies, and the minds behind the divestment movement aren’t trying to say that. The goal is to make a statement and get everyone involved in the fight. The movement will continue to draw publicity as it spreads, helping expose the moral implications of supporting and profiting from an industry that knowingly causes harm to the environment. If large and influential groups of people such as a collection of universities were to publicly and symbolically declare the fossil fuel industry immoral, the industry would lose considerable clout and pull in politics.

Yes, LMU might have a smaller return on our endowment if we were to divest. However, there are plenty of ways for LMU to invest in a socially just manner. We could invest in clean energy and other sustainable technologies, which are not only lucrative now, but will likely become more profitable as the global community moves away from fossil fuels. We could pull our mission statement back into consideration and invest our funds in a way that reflects our stated concern for justice. We could reinvest in efficiency and sustainability projects on campus, like the biomass gasification plant Middlebury College built to replace the roughly one million gallons of oil it used per year. The campaign for divestment at LMU is only in its infancy, but my experience with the ECO Students club over the past year has showed me that there are students and faculty on campus ready to join the movement and take a stand.

This is the opinion of Connor DeVane, a senior English major from Las Vegas, New. Please send comments to cchenelle@theloyolan.com. 

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