Letter to the editor: Response to Oliver Fields on divestment
Editor’s note: this letter is a response to letters published in the Dec. 5 issue of The Trail.
To the Trail:
In last week’s issue of The Trail, a letter to the editor appeared responding to a number of pieces that had come out in support of a transparent investment and socially responsible investment (SRI) campaign two weeks before.
The author, Oliver Field, expressed his disapproval of the campaign. As participants in the campaign, we are happy to have sparked campus wide conversation and would like to respond to a few of Field’s points.
Field is correct when he remarks that Puget Sound’s divestment from fossil fuel companies would be a symbolic gesture. Divestment is a political strategy intended to voice our disapproval of the production and use of fossil fuels, considering their contribution to climate change.
While we may do our best, as individuals, to minimize our carbon footprint, it is virtually impossible to live in our society without, as Field points out, consuming fossil fuels via travel, heating, etc. Because the availability of alternative fuels on the market is extremely limited, our ability to protest the use of fossil fuels by refusing to consume them is limited.
Rather than acting only as consumers, then, we must also act as investors to put pressure on energy companies, making it known, on the investment end as well as the consumption end, that we wish for these firms to change their practices. We can conceptualize the decision to divest as a withdrawal of intellectual as well as financial capital. Universities like Puget Sound are leading entities in societal thought, and thus hold more intellectual capital than they do financial stock.
By divesting, universities make a statement against environmentally destructive practices, joining a movement that, as it continues to grow, has an increasing chance of convincing companies to listen.Without this political pressure, fossil fuel companies are not investing in alternative, sustainable energy to the degree that Fields suggests. Compared to the total amount of money these companies invest each year, the amount they put into alternative fuels is minimal, and shrinking.
While BP did state at one point that their new slogan was “Beyond Petroleum,” in 2010 BP divested $3.1 Billion from their sustainable wind projects. As of April of this year, BP has halted any new investment in renewable energy, stopping its 18-year campaign to go “Beyond Petroleum.” BP is not alone in this trend; in June, Chevron began to divest from their alternative energy operations as well. As long as fossil fuels remain the most lucrative energy product, the investments these energy firms do continue to make in alternative fuels will not be intended to replace fossil fuels, but will rather continue to be used as a branding technique, leading environmentally conscientious consumers to support these companies in the belief that they wish to change their practices. We believe that these practices will not change without activist input on all fronts, including the stock market.
In failing to provide such input as investors, we also run the risk of hindering other forms of activism. During 2014 alone, BP has spent $4,230,000 in lobbying expenditures to keep the industry under-regulated. The industry as a whole spent $102,741,477 on campaign contributions alone during this last year. Allowing companies to make these contributions without protest from activist investors makes it easier for them to weigh down legislative activism, thus hurting other fronts in the environmental movement. The endowment of this university is intended to provide returns in perpetuity by making stable investments that will continue to pay out for the foreseeable future. Investments in fossil fuels are finite, as we can no longer pretend that we can use fossil fuels in the long term, considering their contribution to global climate change.
Since we know that investments in fossil fuel companies are not financially sustainable, making such investments does not reflect the goals of the university’s endowment, and there are sound fiscal as well as environmental reasons for reinvesting the school’s money. We believe that, regardless of the angle from which one examines the issue, the right path for Puget Sound is to examine its current investments, divest from fossil fuel companies, and reinvest in firms not associated with the fossil fuel industry.
Considering both the environmental damage fossil fuel companies’ primary products inflict and the likely instability of these companies’ stock as climate change worsens, the school, by implementing an SRI strategy, would both make an environmentally conscientious political statement and help safeguard its financial future.
Special subcommittee of E.C.O. on Socially Responsible Investment
Sierra Cocoziello ‘15
Emma Casey ‘18
Sophia Salus-Kleiner ‘18
Giulia Alexander ‘18
Curtis Mraz ‘18
Chris Eichar ‘16
Emily Smaldone ‘17