For the second time in as many weeks, Fossil Free Yale gathered outside University President Peter Salovey’s office Thursday afternoon to demand divestment.
In addition to the protest — which, in contrast to last week’s 12-person gathering, brought roughly 60 people to the steps of Woodbridge Hall — the pro-divestment student group delivered a letter to Salovey’s office.
This is not the first time FFY has brought a letter to Salovey’s doorstep. In October, the group delivered over 180 signed letters to Woodbridge Hall that urged the University to reconsider divesting its assets from fossil fuel companies.
The letter to Woodbridge Hall administrators demanded a University plan to “address the multiple injustices created by the fossil fuel industry” by midnight on April 1, or risk “escalated direct action” by the group. Though Salovey could not be reached for comment, his statement to the News from October 2014 defended the Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility and directed attention to the six sustainability initiatives unveiled in August, which accompanied the Yale Corporation’s decision to not divest.
“[The CCIR] reasoned that focusing on fossil fuel suppliers ignores all of the other sectors of the economy that cause carbon emissions and contribute to the problem, or the ‘social injury,’” Salovey wrote in the October email. “Should new information come to light suggesting that this view is not appropriate, then I suspect the [Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility] would reconsider the issues and bring any relevant concerns to the CCIR.”
Law professor Jonathan Macey, chair of the ACIR, said the committee is in touch with FFY and is planning to meet with them soon. He added the committee is beginning to “vote proxies,” a process used by the ACIR under the CCIR’s guidance to support corporate shareholder resolutions related to climate change. This process allows the ACIR to support a proposition on behalf of the University by casting its vote remotely, rather than having to attend shareholder meetings. In addition to this initiative, Chief Investment Officer David Swensen sent a letter in September to all of Yale’s active external money managers urging them to consider the consequences of climate change in their investment decisions.
Though representatives of FFY had previously described the University’s sustainability initiatives — which include potentially piloting a carbon charge at Yale to adopting third-party verification of emission data — as commendable yet insufficient, today’s rally marked a new direction, with speakers openly criticizing the University’s effort.
“Yale has shown little interest in taking any action that may sacrifice their profits or anything that may require them to act on their supposed morals,” FFY organizer Alexandra Barlowe ’17 said. “I am angry because people’s lives are on the line and all Yale has done is throw money at sustainability, which has done a lot more for Yale’s public image than for victims of the climate crisis.”
During Thursday’s protest, students shared personal stories about the impact of the fossil fuel industry on communities.
Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale and a former reporter for the News, spoke about the impact of oil extraction on the Piscataway Indian Nation of Southern Maryland.
“It is our elders, our languages, our lands, your land and our peoples that are at stake,” he said, prompting cheers from the crowd. “This endowment is blood money.”
The letter presented to Woodbridge Hall administrators, which was obtained by the News, stated FFY’s demand that the University construct a plan to address how Yale will change its investment policy to account for the social harm caused by the fossil fuel industry.
FFY Project Manager Mitch Barrows ’16 added that while he cannot speculate on Salovey’s potential response to FFY’s demands, he said he does not readily see another option besides divestment.
“If the Corporation chooses to respond with a plan of action that does not include divestment, FFY would evaluate that plan based on its ability to remediate the grave social harm inflicted [by the fossil fuel industry],” he said in an email.
Correction: March 6
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the protest saw an attendance of roughly 40. In fact, roughly 60 people attended the protest.