This week, pro-divestment groups at the University of Pennsylvania are gathering for what is called DivestFest, a weeklong effort to promote divestment on campus. Activities include a panel discussion on the merits of fossil fuel divestment and a protest Friday at the Board of Trustees. As 350.org and others utilize the events at Penn to churn up attention, here’s of reminder of why Penn has already rejected divestment.
Back in 2016, the Board of Trustees at Penn found that fossil fuels did not meet the criteria for divestment. According to Chairman David Cohen:
“The Committee unanimously found that the Fossil Free Penn proposal does not meet the established criteria for divestment. As a result, the Committee did not recommend divestment… While the Trustees recognize that the ‘bar’ of moral evil presents a rigorously high barrier of consideration, we are resolute in our belief that such a high barrier must be maintained so that investment decisions and the endowment are not used for the purpose of making public policy statements.”
Multiple Penn students have spoken out against divestment. A student at Penn cited her own reasons for Penn to say no to divestment:
“Needless to say, I want what is best for this institution…The money that Penn receives from investing in fossil fuel companies is significant. All of the money goes directly into the Penn endowment, which is then saved so Penn can gain greater interest. The interest helps fund scholarships, financial aid, and the top professors that give us our Ivy League education. Penn invests in fossil fuels to benefit the students’ futures.”
Here’s another comment from a student on campus who thinks divestment is a distraction:
“To save our planet, we must focus on actions that have an impact, instead of symbolic actions that feel good but have little real-world benefit. Divestment is one of those actions — it sure feels good to demonize the fossil fuel industry, but our time and energy can be better spent enacting concrete changes that benefit everyone around the world. Climate change should be a unifying idea, a call to arms, but instead, actions like divestment keep it stagnating as an ideological battle.”
Divestment is stalling across the country. The 2017 school year has not been friendly for divestment, with voices from across the country rejecting divestment. This is largely due to the high costs of divestment for student and endowments alike, not to mention its lack of impact on the environment. In fact, as Bloomberg recently reported, energy companies being targeted by divestment are the exact companies investing into new sources of energy. From the Bloomberg’s Sustainable Finance Brief:
“The world’s biggest oil companies more than doubled their number of annual clean energy acquisitions, project investments and venture capital stakes, to 44 in 2016 from 21 the year before, according to research published Oct. 24 by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In the past 15 years, they’ve completed 428 transactions and spent $6.2 billion building stakes in clean energy companies, amid pressure to diversify their businesses and accelerate green growth.”
Discussion at Penn will no doubt continue into the future, but the facts remain unchanged: divestment is a bad choice.