ACIR considers fossil fuel divestment

With students at 234 colleges now urging their universities to stop investing endowment funds in the fossil fuel industry, members of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility said Thursday they would “investigate” divestment as a possible path for the Yale Investments Office.

At ACIR’s annual open meeting last Thursday at the Law School, four Yale students delivered a 45-minute presentation on the harms of carbon emissions and reasons that the University should not profit from the use of fossil fuels. The students — members of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, the Yale chapter of the Roosevelt Institute and the Yale Environmental Law Association — began to draft the fossil fuel divestment report last semester and hope to work with administrators to determine the best way forward.

Following the presentation, members of the ACIR — a committee responsible for making recommendations to the Yale Corporation to ensure the University’s endowment assets are invested ethically — said they would be willing to work with the students this semester to explore the issues raised in the report.

“I think the verdict was that there’s not a verdict yet,” said Abigail Carney ’15, one of the presenters from the Roosevelt Institute.

Carney said that the single-spaced, roughly 50-page report covered topics such as the social harms caused by climate change, specifics about the fossil industry and information on Yale’s history of socially responsible investing. The version of the report presented Thursday recommended that Yale divest from the 200 companies with the largest carbon reserves, 100 of which are oil and gas companies and 100 of which are coal companies, Carney said.

Patrick Reed ’15, president of YSEC, said the meeting went much better than he expected, adding that the presenters had been unsure whether the report would be “rejected outright.”

Organizers said they consulted the Ethical Investor, a 1972 book that the Yale Corporation consulted to determine guidelines for divestment, while compiling the report in order to apply the ethical frameworks discussed in it to the issue of fossil fuels. Alice Buckley ’15 said they not only had to prove that fossil fuels constitute a “grave social injury” but also that Yale has the capacity to “do something about it.”

The students who presented Thursday are affiliated with Fossil Free Yale, the Yale chapter of the national movement to divest from fossil fuels officially launched last week. Fossil Free Yale follows a pre-determined national agenda and emphasizes student activism — their current activities include circulating a petition to the Yale Corporation’s Committee on Investor Responsibility, or CCIR, the committee of the Yale Corporation to which the ACIR reports, and educating the campus community about the harms of fossil fuels.

Buckley said the report is important for Fossil Free Yale because it demonstrates that the presenters had committed time and energy to researching the issues.

“The report was really fundamental for the campaign because it gives [Fossil Free Yale] legitimacy,” she said. “We’re not just stomping our feet on the ground, we’re not a tree-hugging direct action group.”

Members of the ACIR told the presenters they were impressed by the presentation.

“At this point, it’s obviously a big movement,” Daniel Shen ’14, the undergraduate representative on ACIR, said to the News. “It’s in our interests to hear the concerns of the Yale community and see what we can do.”

Shen said while the ACIR has not met privately since the open meeting Thursday, it has three possible ways to proceed — the committee could mention the fossil fuel group in its annual report to CCIR in late February, bring up the issue to CCIR on a separate occasion or do neither.

Shen said that the ACIR must not only decide whether to bring the fossil fuel case to the CCIR but also whether to modify the presenters’ proposal. ACIR could choose to recommend that Yale divest from the top 12 fossil fuel companies instead of the top 200, for example, or could offer an alternative strategy other than divesting, he said.

The final decision lies with the CCIR, which recommends investment policy to the Corporation as a whole, he said.

Unity College, located in Maine, and Hampshire College, located in Massachusetts, have both agreed to divest from fossil fuels.

Comments