Recently, the University announced that it would not divest from fossil fuel companies and the decision sparked lively campus debates. Many students expressed immense disappointment in Yale’s decision. I, however, take the path less traveled and support the University’s decision.
I consider myself an environmental activist. I come from a small farming town where agriculture is an important source of revenue. Our one tourist attraction is the town lake, which is also critical to the town’s economic well-being. I spent most of my high school career working with the town to establish a permanent lake advisory committee. The committee plays an active role in town politics and works to implement best management practice to preserve the lake for future generations.
But there is a fine line between being an activist and an alarmist. An activist recognizes that a problem exists and analyzes the steps needed to correct it. Alarmists, on the other hand, exacerbate problems by creating panic and confusion.
Yale is home to many activist groups that work to draw attention to their causes. Since the University announced its decision not to divest, many of these groups have veered from activism toward alarmist declarations. “We don’t think we need to follow somebody else’s rules anymore,” one Fossil Free Yale leader recently told the News. But I doubt that radical tactics will win FFY any friends among the administrators who have the ability to make change.
The outcry generated by FFY and other student activists seems to be based on a belief that divestment is a necessary step to protect our planet. But this is not the case. Divestment is not necessarily the best solution — what is needed instead is research and development to grow and nurture industries that promise to reduce our dependence on oil, coal and natural gas, namely renewable energy and green transportation. Divestment from fossil fuel companies will not place these companies in financial distress as long as the world remains dependent on their products. What will harm these companies is the birth and growth of rival industries. The university can help this happen by committing funds to continue research and development of green technologies.
Of course, there is the argument that Yale’s divestment might be powerful as a symbolic act. But with the endowment showing substantial growth, now is not the time to make changes to our investment strategy. David Swensen has done a remarkable job guiding the endowment during his career. We must trust him, and the rest of the investment office, to chart the path they think best.
The investment office recently released a letter asking Yale’s external investment managers to consider the impact of climate change on future investment decisions. While the University chose not to divest, it has taken the first step in moving toward a sustainably invested endowment. At the least, this certainly shows that the University is not ignoring its responsibility as an environmental stewardess.
Divestment would be an irresponsible action for a large institutional investor like Yale — any such sweeping policy change is bound to have unforeseen effects. Instead, the best way to prepare the endowment for the future is by slowly reducing its ties to fossil fuels while investing in green industries. If the University does this, while maintaining its commitment to research and development on sustainable initiatives, Yale will be a global leader in the green economy.
Even while holding on to black gold, Yale can be green.
Jordan Sabin is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at email@example.com.