Why I Believe in Divestment

By Grace Cooper

Before I came to Tufts I had never heard the word “divestment”. I was first introduced to the term when I attended Tufts Climate Action’s general interest meeting and listened as past members talked about the history of Tuft’s divestment campaign. After that meeting I knew that divestment meant taking our investments out of fossil fuel companies, which made sense to me, but I didn’t quite understand the importance of divestment or why these students were so passionate about the campaign. As I became more involved with Tufts Climate Action I slowly began to realize just what divestment could do. Yes, Tufts divesting would take about 70 million dollars out of the fossil fuel industry and protect our university from losing money to the carbon bubble, but divestment is more than just about money, in fact the money is probably the least important part. Taking those 70 million dollars out of fossil fuels is a statement. It is taking away fossil fuel companies’ social license to operate by showing the world that it is immoral to profit off of industries that are mainly responsible for destroying our planet and that commit acts of injustice against vulnerable communities. The more I learned about the benefits of divestment from my peers the more it made sense to me, and as it made more sense to me the more I wanted to become a part of the campaign.

What surprised me is that last year Tuft’s Board of trustees refused to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in the next five years. I had always had the impression that the university I applied to was environmentally responsible. This façade came from the eco-reps, recycling bins all over campus, compost in the dining halls, the farmers market and more. But behind all of these little gestures, the school I was proud to attend was shoveling millions of dollars into the very industries that are destroying the earth and did absolutely nothing to change their ways after the very people who are providing their income through extremely high tuition asked them to stop. Part of me is surprised by this, and part of me isn’t. So many people believe that recycling or taking shorter showers will solve all of our climate problems. In the same way, Tufts thinks that if we have recycling bins on campus its ok to profit off of fossil fuel industries. Thankfully my amazing co-members of Tufts Climate Action have stood up and said no, it is not ok. I could not be more proud to join these heroic students in their fight to create meaningful change by guiding our university towards socially and environmentally responsible practices.

Oil, Hoax, and Gas

The Hoax

This Thursday, October 16, 2014, a strange article was circulated claiming that Tufts University is divesting from oil companies while drilling for a recently-discovered pocket of natural gas under Curtis Hall. It further announced that Tufts would be selling the gas to British Petroleum, which would also sponsor a petroleum engineering center as part of the Chemistry Department in Pearson Hall. Upon closer inspection and communication with President Monaco, it was determined that the article was a hoax.

President Monaco let's us know that it's a hoax.

President Monaco let’s us know that it’s a hoax.

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A hoax, I tell you!

 

 

Digging for Truth

A few other hints further elucidated the article’s phony nature: it was posted on bostonglobetoday.com, not bostonglobe.com, the Globe’s real website. The article’s comment section could not be viewed, and a disclaimer was posted above the article asking commenters to instead email the author directly (the author’s email address looked like, but was in fact not, a valid Boston Globe email address).

Students investigated the fake URL, which has so far clarified very little: it was registered on October 10, 2014 by Domains By Proxy, LLC., so no human name was given. Student members of Tufts Climate Action have since contacted reporters at the Boston Globe to ask for information and to ask if they would cover this strange hoax and the work that is actually being done on campus around divestment, natural gas, and other climate issues. One student, Ben Weilerstein, spoke with a reporter who informed him that it is unlikely the Globe would cover the story. Nonetheless, Jesse requested a link to the phony article. He also mentioned that the Globe’s lawyers might investigate the fake post, since it used the Globe’s name and logo.

 

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

The History

Today’s hoax article, as absurd and unexpected as it was, is based in the history of a campaign that has been working hard to pressure Tufts University’s Board of Trustees to remove the $70 million that it invests in the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel divestment campaign at Tufts formally began in September 2012, when a small group of students began a petition calling on the University to divest. In the beginning of fall semester 2013, over 1000 students voted in favor of fossil fuel divestment, passing a student referendum demanding divestment. This referendum, a variety of student protests, a faculty petition with almost 50 signatures and an alumna petition with over 200 signatures, forced Tufts’ administration to meet and negotiate with students. These negotiations culminated in the Trustees voting not to divest.

By choosing to continue investing in fossil fuels, Tufts is supporting an industry that causes at least 5 million deaths every year and that fundamentally alters the chemical composition of our atmosphere with numerous destructive consequences while blocking world governments’ attempts to confront this crisis.
Students are now organizing and building power to increase the pressure on Tufts’ trustees to divest from fossil fuels. Join us. Click here to sign the student petition to demand that Tufts’ divest from fossil fuels, come to our movie screening of Gasland 2, an intriguing and difficult film about fracking, and come to our weekly meetings in Miner 112 at 8:30 PM. You can contact the group on facebook or twitter and reach out directly to some of our student leaders:
Shana Gallagher (shana.gallagher@tufts.edu), Evan Bell (evan.bell@tufts.edu), Lila Kohrman-Glaser (lila.kohrman_glaser@tufts.edu) and Makaylah Respicio (makaylah.respicio@tufts.edu).

Why we can’t take no for an answer

A response to Tufts University’s decision to “refrain from divestment at this time”

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

What "ambitious goals," Tufts?

“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.

Tufts University Students Vote Overwhelmingly in Favor of Fossil Fuel Divestment

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.

Response to the Tufts Daily Editorial

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. 

 

Dear Editor,

 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.

 

Sincerely,

 

Devyn Powell

A’14, International Relations & Environmental Studies

Member, Presidential Working Group Regarding Socially Responsible Investments and Climate Change

 

Vote YES to DIVEST!

Vote YES to DIVEST!

Vote YES to DIVEST!

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 tuftsdivest@gmail.com

RSVP on Facebook, and check out our upcoming events!

–> Do The Math film screening
Monday, Oct 7th 8:30PM
Cabot Auditorium

–>Building the Revolution: Speak Out for Justice
Tuesday, Oct 8th 6PM
Lower Campus Center Patio

–> Divestment Teach-In
Tuesday Oct. 8th 8PM
Cabot Auditorium

–>Vote Yes to Divest RALLY
Wed, Oct 9th 12PM NOON
Tisch Patio

The Revolution Will Be on Monday; Or Fall General Interest Meeting!

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!

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Come to our General Interest Meeting! Monday, 8:30PM, Robinson 253. RSVP on Facebook! 

Announcement: Administration Working Group Forming to Review Divestment

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.

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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:

  1. 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;
  2. Exploring the possibility of establishing a fund with a commitment to socially responsible investing;
  3. 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