Cornell University Considering A Fossil Fuel Divestment

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Cornell University’s trustees are discussing the possibility of jettisoning the University’s fossil fuels assets, while the school’s president has issued warnings in the past against divesting.

The University’s 64-member trustee panel plans on hashing out the issue during meetings set for Saturday, John Carberry, a spokesman for Cornell University, told reporters on Friday. It is unclear at this point whether the school – which totes a $6.3 billion endowment, $24 million of which are in coal and oil stock, among others – will vote to purge its fossil fuel assets.

Cornell University President Elizabeth Garrett voiced her opposition to a divestment measure that has become a minor cause célèbre among Cornell faculty and students.

Last October, during their last meeting, the trustees heard a presentation from biology and genetics Prof. David Shalloway, who spoke on behalf of sponsors of Cornell’s divestment measure – among those represented were the Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the Employee Assembly, the Faculty Senate and the University Assembly.

“I share a lot of the concerns that those who support divestment do,” Garret said during a November interview with the school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. “I just don’t think divestment is the right way to go about addressing those concerns.”

“The 100 oil and gas companies with the largest carbon reserves have a combined value of three trillion dollars,” she continued, adding, “Our share of them is 0.00001 percent, or 24 million.”

Garret’s sentiments from last year mirror statements made by other college heads about such assets in recent months. For instance: University of Michigan at the behest of it president, Mark Schlissel, declined to give into pressure from Divest and Invest and, both of which are run by environmentalist Bill McKibben.

“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 not to divest.

“Fossil fuels enable us to operate the university, to conduct research and to provide patient care,” he added.

However, UM did assure its faculty and student body that it intends on doing what it can to dial down man-made global warming, including pushing a $100 million investment in renewable energy over the next several years.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in October rejected demands from a student-led group to divest, as did Cornell’s fellow Ivy League compatriots: Harvard University and Yale University. The prospects of a no vote on divestment at Cornell have not dimmed the spirit of the anti-fossil fuel crowd.

Even if the university doesn’t get rid of its oil and coal stocks, it can still use loans to invest in renewable energy enterprises, thereby counteracting fossil fuel assets, Mark Orlowski, founder and executive director of the Boston-based nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, told reporters.

“Cornell’s board has a really exciting opportunity,” Orlowski said, adding. “Regardless of a full divestment plan or a partial divestment plan, these are the types of opportunities that can have a significant and tangible long-lasting impact on campus and in the community.”

While the fossil fuel divestment campaign has become all the rage the last couple years, with more than a thousand schools getting pressured to divest, only a handful of schools have sold off their coal and oil stocks.

David Skorton, Cornell’s former president, also rejected the idea previously, partly because he said it would eat away at the investments made in the endowment.

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