Education

University Champions Climate Change, Refuses To Quit Fossil Fuels

Chris White Tech Reporter

The University of Michigan won’t give up its fossil fuel investments, even as it pledges to do more to fight climate change, UM President Mark Schlissel announced last week.

Climate change activists are pushing the school to divest its fossil fuel assets as a step against climate change. Schlissel said he’s not persuaded, but assured faculty and the student body the school is committed to moving forward on environmental awareness issues, including an investment of $100 million in sustainability efforts over the next few years.

I do not believe that a persuasive argument has been made that divestment by the U-M will speed up the necessary transition from coal to renewable or less polluting sources of energy,” Schlissel said in a statement announcing the decision.

“Fossil fuels enable us to operate the university, to conduct research and to provide patient care,” he added. “At this moment, there is no viable alternative to fossil fuels at the necessary scale. In addition, most of the same companies that extract or use fossil fuels are also investing heavily in a transition to natural gas or renewables.”

For these reasons, Schlissel wrote, divestment from fossil fuels is not the right step for UM. The school made a commitment to its donors to use money generated from the endowment to support the school’s academic and research programs, among other school-related programs.

UM is just one school in a growing cavalcade of schools where divestment campaigns have taken hold, many of which have heard the divestment group’s complaints and have agreed to divest. In 2014, for instance, Stanford University confirmed its decision to divest from coal. And Syracuse University became the largest college endowment to go fossil free in April.

Divestment groups such as global warming activist Bill McKibben’s 350.org suggest divestitures are flying around, fast and furious at universities and elsewhere. McKibben’s group is orchestrating a groundswell push to make fossil fuel divestitures appear inevitable.

In hopes of generating some momentum for an agreement in this week’s COP21 meeting in France, 350.org announced that 500 institutions representing over $3.4 trillion in assets have made some form of fossil fuel divestment. But critics are crying foul, suggesting the McKibben’s numbers are inflated.

One such critic, Christopher Helman, writing in Forbes last week, pegged the amount of assets jettisoned by divesting institutions at $125 billion, a number falling short of the amount 350.org claims. The $3.4 trillion number, Helman argued, is the total number of assets held by those institutions, not the actual number of fossil fuel divested assets.

Schlissel concluded his rebuke of divestment calls by thanking the divestment campaign for its continued push to force schools to divest fossil fuels.

“I very much appreciate the commitment and passion exhibited by students who have steadfastly advocated on the issue of climate change, specifically that U-M divest from fossil fuel companies in its endowment,” he said.

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