Environmental activists at the University of Utah are involved in a tug-of-war over fossil fuel divestment, with one group calling a purge of oil assets a moral imperative while the other argues it’s a worthless and politically poisonous measure.
The University of Utah’s Academic Senate will discuss two competing resolutions over the divestment issue Monday. Both are based on the premise that carbon emissions are helping to make global warming worse, yet they have two distinct ways of approaching the problem.
One resolution suggests the university has an ethical and moral obligation to sell off its oil and coal assets; the other argues divestment is pointless measure that will neither solve so-called man-made global warming nor help out the school’s endowment.
Perhaps the best way to attack global warming, the Senate’s more moderate resolution states, is to “transition towards climate responsible investment opportunities,” such as renewable sources, energy conservation and emission reductions.”
The Academic Senate’s president, Bill Johnson, is dead set against divestment, calling it a “divisive political gesture” that accomplishes nothing of substance.
“There are good arguments on both sides of the issue,” Johnson told reporters. “If there is so much good we could do without making this political statement, why should we? Why don’t we focus on working to reduce carbon emissions?”
The university has $2 billion in investments and an endowment worth upwards of $700 million. It has nearly $42 million, or 7 percent, of its assets sunk in oil and energy markets, according to a report released in 2015 by the school’s investment responsibility committee.
Complicating both resolutions is Utah’s adherence to fossil fuels. Utah lawmakers have dismissed concerns associated with global warming, and have passed state resolutions attempting to nix federal policies pushing to curb carbon emissions.
Fossil fuel products made up more than 90 percent of Utah’s energy production in 2014. Coal made up more than 76 percent of the state’s energy that year, while natural gas made up almost 20 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Coal divestment crusaders are also being stymied by a Utah legislature that uses taxpayer dollars to prop up a moribund coal industry.
But the state’s legislature’s actions, one activist told the Salt Lake Tribune, only shows the importance of the divestment issue.
“We are in this cycle, this situation where the fossil fuel industry is deciding everything. It’s deciding funding for the university, who is in our Legislature,” Joan Gregory, who chairs the senate’s ad hoc Re-Investment Dialogue Committee, told reporters. “That’s the reason divestment is so important. We have to break the cycle.”
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