Greens Pull Out The Big Guns To Force A NY College To Divest Fossil Fuels

(REUTERS/Mal Langsdon)

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After months of talk, Barnard College finalized its Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment Monday with a panel discussion featuring anti-fossil fuel campaigners at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The task force is chaired by Barnard Chief Operating Officer Robert Goldberg and consists of Barnard President Debora Spar, as well as various faculty members and trustees Linda Fayne Levinson, Jolyne Caruso-Fitzgerald, Camille Kelleher, Daniel Zwirn, and Purnima Puri.

Several members of the task force were present at a meeting Monday discussing the general nature of divestment, which was moderated by Spar and included Goldman Sachs Managing Director Hugh Lawson, and New Jersey Congressman [crscore]Frank Pallone[/crscore].

About 96 percent of Barnard students who attended a college-wide referendum hosted by Barnard’s Student Government Association last month voiced their support for divestment. The referendum drew about 24 percent participation.

Barnard’s board of trustees decided to create the task force in December, ostensibly for the purpose of kick starting the school’s divestment campaign.

Some critics of divestment are tossing side-eye at the University’s decision to allow Lawson, who is also a trustee at the well-healed Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), a seat in front of the task force.

“It’s one of those ironies to end all ironies that elements of these divestment campaigns are being underwritten by big banks and wealthy foundations,” Matt Dempsey, a spokesman with DivestmentFacts, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Perhaps even worse for activists to learn is that the these very organizations haven’t actually divested themselves,” Dempsey added, referring to RBF’s decision to retain most of its fossil fuel assets even while championing divestment campaigns.

Indeed, as of March 2015, more than 5.2 percent of RBF’s endowment, or about $45 million, was in fossil fuels. The fund has sold off its tar sands and coal, yet still remains heavily invested in oil and gas assets. The RBF’s total endowment was $829 million as of November 2015, according to the fund’s website.

And, as of late 2015, only about 1 percent of the fund’s assets were invested in green energy, which is unlikely to change anytime soon, as it could take up to five years to reach the fund’s goal of 10 percent, RBF president, Stephen Heintz, told reporters.

Still, the anti-fossil fuel crowd championed what little amount of fossil fuels RBF divested.

“I think it was one of the most important moments in the whole divestment campaign just because of the symbolism that is attached to the original fossil fuel fortune,” Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and head of anti-fossil fuel group, told reporters.

The other activists on the scene made their support for climate action clear, yet many of them had divergent viewpoints on divestment.

One of the panelists at Monday’s meeting, New York’s First Deputy Comptroller Alaina Gilligo, who is heavily involved in divestment issues, urged the college to move forward more quickly with respect to divestment.

“It’s too slow,” Gilligo said. “We need to speed it up, it needs to be a more urgent push.”

Another panelist member, Divest Barnard president Evelyn Mayo, said she worries the school is slogging along at too slow a pace, leaving Barnard’s divestment battle at the trough of a very deep slope.

“To me it’s like we’re at the bottom of the slope,” Mayo said. “We can’t be worse, but the best we can do is to start climbing that slope, and if we reach the top someday and all our investments align with every single belief that we hold here, that’s great, and that should be a goal.”

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