Fossil Free Yale brought revised demands to the table in a conversation with administrators last Thursday, presenting its first major policy document in two years to the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility.
In a room at the Yale Law School, around 10 FFY organizers once again asked that Yale divest its endowment from fossil fuel industries, but this time with less fanfare than came with the group’s protest in April, when Yale police threatened to arrest 19 FFY members inside Woodbridge Hall after an daylong sit-in. The organizers presented the document to ACIR, which is comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni who recommend investment policies to the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. Previously, FFY had demanded that the University completely divest from all industries that produce fossil fuels. FFY’s new policy document narrows the criteria for divestment, asking only that Yale divest from industries that could not eliminate fossil fuels without fundamentally changing their business models.
For example, according to FFY organizer Hannah Nesser ’16, Yale should divest from industries like oil, which by definition cannot stop producing fossil fuels. On the other hand, Yale need not divest from industries like the automobile industry that could eliminate greenhouse gas emissions without ceasing to produce cars, she said.
“The best way to divest is to divest from companies that can’t change without changing their identity,” Nesser said.
Although Yale administrators have rejected the idea of complete divestment from fossil fuels in the past, Thursday’s presentation represents another step in FFY’s dialogue with the University over responsible investment. In 2014, the University told FFY that it would not further engage with the organization until FFY provided new information in a policy document or from other sources. Up to that point, FFY had primarily been using the same set of recommendations that it had written in 2013.
An FFY protest originally planned for last Friday, the day after the meeting with ACIR, was postponed to prevent any overlap with the current campus dialogues about race.
“We felt that we needed to make space for more reflection and discussion and not try to center the campus discourse on our issue,” said FFY member Tristan Glowa ’18 in an email to the FFY community.
The postponed rally, which will be held instead on Nov. 13, aims to gather student support rather than address specific problems with Yale’s investments, Nesser said.
In addition to recommending these new guidelines for divestment, FFY called attention to another negative effect of fossil fuels for the first time. Fossil fuel industries disrupt political processes in countries around the world, Nesser said.
At the Thursday meeting, FFY also submitted a letter written by several Yale professors, along with the testimonies of faculty who support divestment. The letter bore the signatures of 130 faculty members.
Current members of the ACIR did not answer specific questions about the meeting with FFY, but Nesser said she expects to meet again with the committee in the future.
Founded in 1972, ACIR follows a set of ethical guidelines for investment that are outlined in “The Ethical Investor,” a book published by the Yale University Press in the same year about how universities should invest their endowments. The book outlined Yale’s “minimum moral obligation” when investing its money.
But Nesser said the investment guidelines in “The Ethical Investor” are obsolete.
“We think that this model failed,” Nesser said.
Elon Boms, the managing director of LaunchCapital, a New Haven-based venture capital firm and a lecturer at the School of Management, sits on ACIR. Boms said LaunchCapital seeks to invest in technologies that reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.
“I have been very impressed with the level of thought, talent and passion that the Yale Fossil Free students have displayed on this topic,” Boms wrote in an email to the News.
The Ethical Investor was written by three Yale professors in 1969.