Dirty Assets

By | December 5th, 2012 | Galaxy, News & Views

College students advocate divestment on their campuses

We all chose to come to Ithaca College for one reason or another, whether that reason was academic programs, gorgeous gorges or Ithaca’s status as the No.1 college town. For junior environmental studies major Allison Currier, it was one of the college’s five main values that got her to send in her deposit: commitment to sustainability. Through her classes and education at IC, she is constantly learning about the importance of our future and the effects we have on the entire global community.

“It is actually interesting because through my education and through my experiences here, those experiences like my classes and my major has lead me to be more excited about the Divestment campaign,” Currier said.

The Divest For Our Future Campaign is a partnership between Better Future Project, Students for a Just and Stable Future and 350.org. According to Divest For Our Future, their main goal is to “have all college and university presidents and boards immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and divest from direct or indirect ownership of fossil fuel stocks and bonds within 5 years.”

There are 112 campus campaigns nationally, including at the IC and Cornell University campuses. IC has an endowment of $200 million, a minute fund compared to Cornell’s endowment of $5.23 billion for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

“One of the elements of that fiduciary responsibility is that trustees have oversight of investing the endowment in a way that promises the best possible monetary returns so as to help subsidize high quality educational programs, provide student financial aid and so forth,” Ithaca College President Tom Rochon said. “However, it also means investing the endowment in a way that is in alignment with the mission and values of the college.”

Though the board holds much power over this decision, Nancy Pringle, secretary to the board of trustees, was contacted three times with no reply.

What good are the degrees we are earning in college if the world in which we could use them no longer exists due to global warming? This is the question many IC students involved with the Divest Campaign are asking to try to stir up action amongst students and the college’s board of trustees. The group is actually a coalition between many clubs on campus including the Environmental League of Action Network, modeled after the General Assembly from the Occupy movement.

According to President Rochon, divestment has been successful in the past at IC.

“One generation ago, a number of boards of trustees across the country decided that investing in companies whose South Africa operations were part of the apartheid system was not in alignment with the missions of their colleges,” Rochon said.

There are 200 publically traded companies that hold a majority of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves —companies the project hopes colleges and universities will divest from, and invest instead in clean energy. According to the national campaign, “The mission of higher education is to provide individuals with the tools, resources, and knowledge to have an influence on the world around them. Our schools invest in our future. Yet at the same time, they are supporting corporations that are actively threatening the future of all life on earth.”

Fossil fuel companies are polluting the earth without paying for the damages are caused directly to ecosystems and indirectly through severe weather caused by increased global climate change.

“You don’t think about investing where the money is [going]” Currier said. “We think about green building and using compostable material and recycling and that all is really good and important but to make real change you need to make it from the inside out and you need to move money because we live in a capitalist system where money drives everything.”

Cornell is also taking part in the campaign. The university’s divestment group is demanding divestment of all endowment funds from fossils fuels by 2020. They are also calling for the university to reinvest 30 percent of the endowment in sustainable funds, specifically positively screened companies and commingled funds by 2030. A similar movement was made at Cornell a few years ago, but the policy was essentially ignored. However, President of Kyoto Now!, Anna-Lisa Castle, believes this movement will be different.

“We are careful about building public support so that we can create a sustainable movement that cannot be swept under the rug and which can be continued by future Cornellians,” Castle said.

Whether from a large Ivy League university or a medium sized liberal arts school, students in this movement care about the future of their world and the role their colleges are playing in it. We are investing our money in these institutions so why shouldn’t they invest their funds in our futures?

“We have the power because we go to this school to make a real change in where the money is being put. And I am not ever going to consider Ithaca College a sustainable environment until that money is divested from fossil fuels,” Currier said.

Meagan McGinnes is a junior journalism major who hugs trees (figuratively). Email her at mmcginn1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.

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