Letter to the Editor: Op-Ed Divestment at Weber State

Recently, I’ve been working with Weber State’s administration to find out where the university’s endowment is invested. Before I looked at Weber State’s energy investments, I figured I would find at least a few renewable energy companies or corporations on the list. Apparently, I was wrong.

Upon looking at Weber State’s energy portion of the endowment, I found that all 215 corporations and companies listed were either coal, oil, gas, or the aid to exploring, acquiring, or transporting coal, oil, and gas. The seemingly dirty energy investment list totaled nearly $5.6 million.[1]

Almost every government in the world has signed the Copenhagen Accord, an agreement that, in order to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,

Did someone forget to pass the message to Weber State’s endowment fund manager? If the fossil fuel industry continues business as usual, the planet and the people living on it for generations to come will pay the price.

Additionally, Weber State has investments in some of the fossil fuels industry’s top offenders with respect to dismissing corporate responsibility as a priority from their business. Corporations like Exxon Mobil and Chevron were at the top of the list for energy investments at Weber State only to be followed by others such as BP PLC, Lukoil Holdings, Gazprom OAO, and the university even has a little money invested in Madagascar Oil Ltd!

Madagascar Oil Ltd[2] is focused on the development of heavy oil and conventional oil & gas deposits in Madagascar. For those who may not know, Madagascar is home to a massive amount of endemic biodiversity and has already suffered in the past from environmental degradation.

How can Weber State support the distribution and use of the products these companies provide knowing the effects it holds for the planet given the current rate?

What is the current rate? The Carbon Tracker Initiative’s 2013 Unburnable Carbon report [3] estimated that reserves of just 200 of the largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies and countries that act like them (such as Venezuela or Kuwait) are equivalent to about 2,795 gigatonne of CO2.

According to scientists,[4] humans can only pour about 565 more gigatonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in hopes of staying under two degrees. That’s five times the amount of CO2 we could release if we were to stay below The Copenhagen Accord’s forewarned two degrees of warming.

Again for emphasis, The Copenhagen Accord included the agreement of 114 parties, (almost every government in the world including the EU, Japan, The Russian Federation, China, The United Arab Emirates, and the good old United States of America.) Clearly if most nations don’t agree we should plan on burning 2,795 gigatonne of CO2, then why should Weber State invest in corporations or companies that plan to do just that?

If you think that sounds as backwards as I do, I have another piece of news to tell my fellow friends at Weber State. There is a global movement to divest from fossil fuels happening right now.

According to gofossilfree.org [5], divestment “means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous and since fossil fuel investments are a risk for investors and the planet, institutions should divest from these companies.”

There have been successful divestment campaigns in the past such as the South African Apartheid, which helped break apart a system of racial segregation  in South Africa.

Currently eight colleges and universities have committed to fossil fuel divestment. Entire cities have also recently committed to divestment including Seattle WA., San Francisco CA., Portland OR., Berkeley CA., Boulder CO., and others totaling 22 cities. Even religious institutions, foundations, counties and other institutions have committed to divestment thus far. [6]

Weber State has a chance to make history, if we can convince Weber State’s   endowment fund manager  to 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.

Given the energy portion is only 5.91 percent of the total endowment, equaling $5,578,311 out of the $94,355,092 endowment total, Weber State should have no problem, especially given Weber State’s vision in the Climate Action Plan [7], to find more ethical investments such as clean energy like solar, wind, and geothermal. Students have an opportunity to work with administrators at Weber state to ensure that our school’s investments are sustainable, smart and profitable!

Now that everyone is acquainted with divestment and what it means for Weber State, I’d like to close with a quote from Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org. “If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”[8]

I hope administrators, students and staff at weber state will agree that it’s time to divest from fossil fuels!

[1] Weber State. (2013). Energy amount of endowment In Funds with Energy Stocks Market Value and Percent of Fund in Energy. Ogden: Weber State

[2] Madagascar Oil. (2013). Focused on the development of heavy oil and conventional oil & gas. Retrieved from http://www.madagascaroil.com/index.php

[3] James Leaton. (2012, March). Unburnable carbon – are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?. Retrieved from http://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/07/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2.pdf

[4] gofossilfree.org. (2013). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://gofossilfree.org/faq/

[5] gofossilfree.org. (2013). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://gofossilfree.org/faq/

[6] http://gofossilfree.org/. (2013). Commitments. Retrieved from http://gofossilfree.org/commitments/

[7] Weber State. (2009). Climate action plan In Weber State (Ed.), Weber State University Climate Action Plan . Ogden: Weber State. Retrieved from http://www.weber.edu/WSUImages/sustainability/PlansReports/WSU Climate Action Plan Oct. 2009.pdf

[8] Climate Science Watch. (2012). Fossil fuel divestment campaign: “if it’s wrong to wreck the climate then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”. Retrieved from http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2012/12/21/fossil-fuel-divestment/