Tufts students drop two banners from the Tisch Library roof this morning to remind the administration that we cannot afford to fail the climate test.
We will not take no for an answer.
This was originally published as an op-ed in the Tufts Daily on February 25, 2014. You can read the op-ed on the Daily’s website here.
By Ben Weilerstein and Devyn Powell
“This is the year to take action on climate change. There are no more excuses,” Jim Yong Kim, current President of the World Bank, proclaimed at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. “We can divest” from carbon-intensive assets, he continued, saying that investing in the fossil fuel industry betrays investors’ “responsibility to future pension holders who will be affected by decisions made today.”
Less than three weeks later, Tufts University’s Board of Trustees voted not to divest from fossil fuels, citing “significant anticipated negative impact on Tufts’ endowment.”
As part of President Monaco’s Tufts Divestment Working Group, it quickly became clear to us that the group had not convened to have an “open discussion” about the possibility of divestment from fossil fuels, as President Monaco claimed. Instead, it existed to generate financial models supporting the administration’s expectation that it was financially impossible.
In one of our committee meetings, Patricia Campbell, the Executive Vice President of our University, admitted that divestment could indeed be feasible—but it was clear to us that the administration wasn’t willing to consider the changes to Tufts’ investment strategy that it would entail. It was this lack of willingness to give the possibility of fossil fuel divestment that colored the working group process and left us disappointed by our administration’s utter lack of good faith in its approach to the issue. In his Davos address, President Kim said “Corporate leaders should not wait to act until market signals are right and national investment policies are in place”—and yet our administration continues to claim that Tufts should wait for the carbon bubble to burst before taking action.
Meanwhile, many corporate and institutional leaders are already taking leadership. Mayors of cities including Seattle, Madison, and our own Somerville are pursuing divestment. Norwegian financial services firm Storebrand, which controls more than $60 billion in assets, has announced its intention to pull its investments out of coal and tar sands companies to ensure “long-term stable returns” because they know that those stocks will be “financially worthless” in the future. In January, the CEO of Google joined sixteen other managers of charitable foundations in divesting their assets from the fossil fuel industry. The list goes on.
Our administration and trustees haven’t joined these other institutions not because they are unintelligent or misinformed, but because they are afraid. Perhaps some of our Trustees are afraid to consider that the profits they have gained from their investments in fossil fuel companies have accumulated at the cost of a stable climate and human lives. We have heard both President Monaco and trustee Laurie Gabriel admit that divestment is the moral choice, but they are afraid to challenge one of the largest, most powerful industries in the history of the world. They are afraid to take leadership.
We, like so many of our fellow students, chose Tufts because we believed it was a place that valued ambitious leadership, bold innovation, and active global citizenship. These are the values that Tufts promotes to us throughout its admissions process, in the classroom, and ultimately in the paths we take after graduation. We are expected to lead, make moral choices, and improve our society. But the recent announcement that Tufts will not divest showed that our administration is failing to live up to its own values.
In his letter to the Tufts community, President Monaco wrote: “We are committed to meeting ambitious sustainability goals for Tufts’ operations,” and cited new projects in building energy metering and cogeneration. These are important steps, but compared to the scale and urgency of combating climate change, Tufts’ “sustainability goals” are not in any way “ambitious.”
We have seen this lack of ambition from our institution many times before. It took forty years for Tufts to create an Africana Studies department. It took more than a decade to divest from apartheid South Africa. We don’t have a decade now. We do not have the luxury to be anything short of ambitious. Not when too many communities are already fighting for their lives, for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and food to eat. Not when the fossil fuel industry imperils our generation’s ability to live, work, and raise children in a stable and just world.
The student body showed its support for divestment last semester in a referendum. We know that we, the student body, have the moral clarity and ambition that our administration has failed to show. Tufts will not change unless we fight for that change. So we ask that as this campaign moves forward, you stand with us to make Tufts a place that we can be proud of, for the sake of our future.
In a student-wide referendum, 74% of Tufts student voters cast a ballot in favor of divestment of the university’s endowment holdings from the fossil fuel industry.
The student body was asked to vote on the question “Should Tufts University divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies provided that doing so does not adversely affect the financial status of the university?” The referendum was organized as part of an ongoing campaign to pressure Tufts’ Board of Trustees to divest its holdings in the top 200 publicly-traded oil, coal, and gas companies. The campaign, known on campus as “Tufts Divest for Our Future,” is part of an international movement for divestment spearheaded by the climate change advocacy group 350.org.
While the referendum cannot compel the Board of Trustees to take action on divestment, Tufts Divest for Our Future hopes to use their success as both a movement-building tool on campus and a point of leverage in discussions with university administrators. “We’re very excited to take the results of this vote back to the Board to show them how much support at Tufts there is for this campaign.” said sophomore Luke Sherman, one of the primary student organizers of the referendum effort. “The passage of the referendum shows that Tufts students value a just and sustainable future and a University that lives up to its mission statement.” Similar referenda have also been held at Harvard and Brandeis Universities, with a decisive majority of students voting in favor of divestment at those schools as well.
The students organizing the referendum held several events this week to educate the student body about divestment and raise awareness about the vote, including a screening of “Do The Math,” a documentary film about the divestment movement; a “speak-out” where student activists from various campaigns were invited to speak about how the divestment campaign dovetails with other social justice efforts; and a “teach-in” where a panel of students and experts discussed the divestment issue. “The idea was to inject a discussion about the climate crisis into the student culture,” said junior Daniel Jubelirer, who has been active in the divestment campaign since its inception last fall.
In addition to Wednesday’s vote, the Tufts Divest for Our Future campaign has run petition drives that have collected over 1500 petition signatures in support of divestment from students, as well as hundreds of signatures from alumni and faculty. Over the past year, students in the campaign have met with Tufts president Anthony Monaco, the Board of Trustees Investment Committee, and other administrators to discuss the question of divestment.
In May 2013, compelled by arguments in favor of divestment, the University created the Presidential Working Group on Socially Responsible Investment and Climate Change. The group, comprised of Tufts students, faculty, and trustees, has been charged with researching what divestment would mean for the University.
“We know that we still have a lot of work to do before the Board commits to anything, but the results of this vote have given us a lot of hope moving forward,” said working group member Lila Kohrman-Glaser, a junior. “This campaign is giving Tufts an opportunity to position itself as a visionary leader on the issue of climate change, and we believe that our administration will make the right choice,” Kohrman-Glaser added.
This was sent out as a press release as soon as we learned the results of the referendum vote.
Editorial note: Today, the Tufts Daily ran an editorial titled “Ethical, but not yet practical.” A member of Tufts Divest wrote a letter to the editor, correcting some assumptions and statements in the piece. The Daily will not run this piece before the referenda vote, so we wanted to post it online for people to read.
As a longtime member of the Tufts Divest for Our Future campaign, I wanted to respond to some of the assertions made in Tuesday’s editorial, and correct some statements made that do not accurately reflect our tactics or goals.
First, I have two points in response to the statement “Tufts Divest has thus far not provided an understanding of the fact that immediate removal of investments in these companies is not plausible or provided an alternative investment strategy that would see similar returns.”
1) We are not advocating for the immediate removal of investments. Instead, we are asking that the Board gradually phase out their investments over a period of five years.
2) You are correct that we have not ourselves “provided an alternative investment strategy that would see similar returns.” This is because a number of investment firms, banks, and nonprofit organizations with the expertise to navigate the nuances of this complex issue have already done so. We encourage anyone interested in the details of minimal-risk divestment and alternative reinvestment pathways to look at the recent reports by HSBC, the Aperio Group, Impax Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, and Portfolio 21, among others. Several of these studies present models that show fossil fuel-free portfolios performing as well as or even slightly better than those invested in the industry.
Next, with regards to “past divestment campaigns have served to shape public discourse about certain issues but have been financially ineffective in the sense that divestment did not actually affect the ‘financial markets’ valuations of targeted companies” – you are again correct that divestment is unlikely to affect the share values of the 200 fossil fuel companies we are targeting, but that is not the point of this campaign.
The purpose of divestment is not to directly hurt the stock value of companies like BP and ExxonMobil, but rather to encourage the public opinion that the business model of those companies is short-sighted, dangerous, irresponsible, and morally wrong, and to create a political climate where action on climate change is more feasible as a result of this public opinion. Targeting companies through divestment has the power to create a widespread stigma that can ultimately affect much more powerful long-term change than a simple drop in share prices ever could.
A study released on Monday by Oxford University, entitled “Stranded assets and the fossil fuel divestment campaign: what does divestment mean for the valuation of fossil fuel assets?” assesses these goals and impacts in great detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the theory of change behind divestment review this study. An excerpt: “Stigma attached to merely one small area of a large company may threaten sales across the board…The outcome of the stigmatization process, which the fossil fuel divestment campaign has now triggered, poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain.”
I would like to add that divestment from fossil fuels is an international campaign operating on 317 college campuses, in 109 cities and states, and in 9 religious institutions – it is not by any means an effort limited to Tufts. For more resources and information on divestment than I could possibly enumerate, please visit gofossilfree.org.
Speaking of shaping discourse, I have been excited to observe the conversations that have arisen on campus around this issue, and I encourage everyone who has been involved in these conversations to vote in today’s referendum before midnight tonight. I of course hope you all vote “yes,” but I am well aware that not everyone agrees with us, and I would frankly be surprised and even a little disappointed if you all did. So regardless of your position on divestment, please do vote, and I hope that you do so based on your own informed assessment of divestment, rather than on your views of some of the particular tactics of our group, or on misconceptions and assumptions such as those published in Tuesday’s editorial.
Whichever side of the issue you might stand on, I thank you all for sharing your convictions and for often challenging our own assumptions. It is at moments like this that I am most proud to be part of this smart and passionate community.
A’14, International Relations & Environmental Studies
Member, Presidential Working Group Regarding Socially Responsible Investments and Climate Change
The rumors are true…
On Wednesday, October 9th, the entire Tufts student body will have a chance to vote on the issue of divestment! Students will be asked if the University should divest from the fossil fuel industry, provided that doing so will not harm the university financially.
We are preparing for an epic week of action, including a teach-in, a rally, and The Revolution Begins Now: A Social Justice Speakout!
If you want to get involved and help with outreach for the referendum, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
RSVP on Facebook, and check out our upcoming events!
–> Do The Math film screening
Monday, Oct 7th 8:30PM
–>Building the Revolution: Speak Out for Justice
Tuesday, Oct 8th 6PM
Lower Campus Center Patio
–> Divestment Teach-In
Tuesday Oct. 8th 8PM
–>Vote Yes to Divest RALLY
Wed, Oct 9th 12PM NOON
Care about CLIMATE CHANGE and SOCIAL JUSTICE?
Come to our General Interest Meeting! Monday, 8:30PM, Robinson 253. RSVP on Facebook!
Did you know that Tufts invests millions of dollars in the companies that are polluting our communities and causing the climate change crisis?
Let’s work to change that! Come learn about the campaign for Tufts to divest from the fossil fuel industry and help fight for effective climate legislation and climate justice.
We will be giving the full run down on what divestment is, why we need this tactic now, and how you can join the global movement to confront fossil fuel companies and get action on climate change!
Come to our General Interest Meeting! Monday, 8:30PM, Robinson 253. RSVP on Facebook!
Over the course of the past two semesters, Tufts Divest has been involved in ongoing talks with the administration and Board of Trustees about divestment. We are committed to working respectfully with the administration, as long as we are making progress towards creating a more sustainable endowment and a better Tufts. Today, we are pleased to say that the Tufts administration is making progress by starting a formal process to look into divestment and other ways the school can address climate change.
President Monaco has requested that a working committee form to review several issues, including divestment and other steps Tufts can take to address the climate crisis. The committee will have its first meeting next week! Below is the official announcement from the Administration.
Working Group Regarding Socially Responsible Investments and Climate Change
A growing and active group at Tufts has joined a larger movement to advocate for divestment of fossil fuel companies from the Tufts Endowment Fund. This group, known as “Tufts Divests: Students for a Just and Stable Future”, has shared a written paper and presented to the Board of Trustees Investment Committee its position that Tufts should, over a five year time period, divest from all holdings in fossil fuel companies in its endowment. The Board has indicated an interest in continuing dialogue with students to explore what proactive actions Tufts can practically take with its investments to help mitigate climate change.
In response, President Monaco has requested a small working group be established to address the issue of socially responsible investments and climate change. The group will be comprised of three trustees, three students, three faculty members and one representative from university administration. Trustee Laurie Gabriel will chair the group. The purpose is to explore opportunities for Tufts to engage in effective and financially reasonable efforts to combat global climate change. This work would include three identified areas:
- Creating an understanding of what is involved in divesting from fossil fuel companies, including the financial and structural impacts , while respecting the limitations on disclosure of specific investment information;
- Exploring the possibility of establishing a fund with a commitment to socially responsible investing;
- Considering what other advocacy efforts Tufts can undertake or support to encourage public policy that will limit climate change and global warming.
Working Group Members:
Laurie Gabriel, Trustee
Bill O’Reilly, Trustee
Andrew Safran, Trustee
Andrew Peng, Student representative from ACER
Lila Kohrman-Glaser, Student representative from Tufts Divest
Devyn Powell, Student representative from Tufts Divest
Kelly Sims Gallagher, Faculty Fletcher
R. Bruce Hitchner, Faculty Arts & Sciences
Ann Rappaport, Faculty Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning
Patricia Campbell, Executive Vice President
Join us for an exciting night of MUSIC, ART and ENERGY. Bands from Tufts and beyond will come together to make beautiful music for a great cause.
Oh and did we mention that Melodeego is BIKE POWERED? And that this is a FREE event?
Doesn’t get much better than that.
When: April 17 @ 9PM
Where: Crane Room
HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THE CRANE ROOM IS? (who does?) http://campusmaps.tufts.edu/medford/?fid=m027
It’s at the end of the academic quad near the memorial steps.
Get more info and RSVP at the Facebook event. See you there!