Our generation knows that climate change is not an abstraction. Wildfires have burned entire towns to the ground in California. Puerto Rico still has not recovered from the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Our families, homes and communities are at stake. Political inaction and corporate lobbying are dooming us to a future of climate change-fueled chaos and violence. We know that we need a transition to 100 percent renewable energy that prioritizes racial and economic justice.
Last month, the Yale administration revealed that they do not regard the climate crisis with the same seriousness as do their students. They have a dangerous misunderstanding of the issue, that is particularly harmful given Yale’s influential position as a research university with an endowment the size of a small country’s gross domestic product. Failure to act and misdirected blame in the face of climate change makes Yale complicit in perpetuating injustice.
In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their latest report. It called for an unprecedented economic transformation that would halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next 12 years and described the devastating consequences of falling short. Three days later, the Yale Investments Office silently published a position paper on their ethical investing policy regarding climate change, completely at odds with the panel’s report.
Yale leads research on climate change. Professor William Nordhaus ’63 received the Nobel Prize this year for his work on macroeconomic climate solutions, and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies professor Karen Seto co-authored the intergovernmental panel’s report. Yale promotes sustainability programs like its internal carbon charge. But the Investments Office’s position paper shows that the administration’s own views on what our society must do to avoid catastrophic climate change are archaic and illogical.
The Investments Office statement on climate change begins “Yale’s guiding principles are predicated on the idea that consumption of fossil fuels, not production, is the root of the climate change problem.” Do Peter Salovey and David Swensen truly believe that if everyone made tiny changes to reduce their carbon footprint, the problem would be solved? Do they think that the 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 have given consumers a choice to stop using their products even as they fund climate denial and lobby against government action? Exxon Mobil, Corp. employed scientists in the 1970s to study the impacts of greenhouse gases on the planet and immediately discovered the danger they were creating. They then continued to extract as much oil as possible.
Yale has entirely disregarded the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalized communities, claiming that “without consumers, fossil fuel suppliers would not have a market for their products.” They equate communities who consume fossil fuel-based products out of necessity with corporations who profit from that consumption and corrupt the political process to prevent government regulation.
The Investments Office emphasizes that “modern society could not exist without fossil fuel consumption.” In the face of a groundbreaking report calling on us to move forward toward a renewable energy economy, the Investments Office is looking backward. They act as though climate change can be solved by incremental technological improvements, as if they can abdicate responsibility for the ways in which their investments legitimize continued fossil fuel extraction. What purpose does it serve to acknowledge our dependence on fossil fuels without then imagining a different future?
In the UN climate report, the world’s climate scientists discuss how 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels will differ in human and ecological casualties, while acknowledging that we’re on track for 4 to 6 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. Yale plans to wait “until alternative energy technologies and infrastructures are more fully developed.” The people standing in the way of climate action are the generations who wrote this position paper, who can afford to wait years. Then there will be less weight on their shoulders and less power in their hands.
The intergovernmental panel’s report calls for a swift transition to renewable energy that supports vulnerable communities. Meanwhile, the World Coal Organization responded that they “still see a role for coal for the foreseeable future.” Shell Oil Co. qualified their analysis of emissions scenarios with a disclaimer that investors should not use these predictions to make decisions, as Shell has “no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio.” Our administration chose to release a statement resembling those of oil corporations and lobbyists, asserting that fossil fuels still have a future in our society.
Divestment from fossil fuel companies publicly condemns any financial support of fossil fuel extraction, boosting the speed at which our economy and society can respond, a speed that governmental and scientific bodies alike have been calling for with louder and louder voices in just the last few weeks. The Yale administration and Investments Office are actively slowing down the response. They told us this themselves. We know better.
Nora Heaphy is a sophomore in Morse College. Sophie Lieberman is a sophomore in Saybrook College. They are both members of Fossil Free Yale, which is hosting a rally on Dec. 7 to demand that Yale instruct its fund managers to cancel their holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt and divest from the fossil fuel industry. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com ,or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.