Yale Daily News

After the Yale Environmental Justice Coalition filed a complaint asking the state to investigate the University for its continued holdings in fossil fuel producing companies, Yale School of the Environment affiliates offered their perspectives on the allegations. 

Two School of the Environment professors were listed as signatories of the complaint, which was filed last Wednesday and alleges that the University is failing to invest ethically by continuing to hold on to fossil fuel investments. While the University has released multiple strategies to reduce its contribution to a changing climate, the EJC complaint claims that the University must divest from fossil fuel producing companies in accordance with state law. In conversations with the News, students and professors offered varying reactions, including emphasizing Yale’s transparency, contextualizing investment and encouraging divestment. 

“Yale has done much already, but there is more it can do; Yale has made efforts to be transparent, but again there is more it can do,” Michael R. Dove, professor of social ecology at the School of the Environment, wrote in an email. “Extreme climatic events in the past have altered the course of human history for centuries, even millennia; so contemporary climate change demands not the least that we can get by with, but all that we can do — worryingly, perhaps more than we can do.” 

Dove signed on to the 83-page complaint along with colleague Jennifer Marlon, a research scientist at the School of the Environment and Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Josie Steuer Ingall ’24, an organizer with EJC, said that roughly 50 YSE affiliates have signed on to the complaint through online forms that have been circulated by EJC. 

The School of the Environment currently hosts several programs that incorporate climate change mitigation and environmental injustice into their missions and work, such as the SEARCH, Solutions for Energy, Air, Climate and Health Center and the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Sustainability Initiative, or JEDSI. The Center for Business and Environment also hosts the Yale Initiative on Sustainable Finance, or YSIF, that aims to address sustainable capital, finance policy and investing, among other topics. 

Nathan de Arriba-Sellier, research director and a postdoctoral associate at YSIF, noted that it can be difficult to establish the consequences of divestment movements, but noted that they can “send signals to the market.” He cited other divestment movements that decreased the “market appetite” for the targeted entities, such as movements in California to divest from private prison companies. 

“Fossil fuel activities, because they’re still very profitable, are not encountering much divestments and divestment campaigns are very limited,” de Arriba-Sellier said. “I would say very limited because [where] divestment campaigns take place is just like us — in universities where there are bodies of students who are committed, who are socially active, who are interested directly in climate change, and in their future.” 

However, he also noted that divestment may not be a “one-size-fits-all solution” as it does not engage with companies to encourage them to transition. 

In response to demands for divestment, Yale has announced new strategies to address the University’s contribution to climate change ranging from the establishment of ethical investment principles to the goal of zero actual emissions by 2050. In April 2021, 2.6 percent of the endowment was estimated to be invested in fossil fuel producers. The EJC complaint estimates Yale’s fossil fuel holdings to range from 800 million to 2.5 billion dollars.

“Yale’s April 2021 statement of principles and criteria governing oil and gas investments demonstrates impressive progress,” said John Wargo, professor of environmental health and politics. “The list of firms no longer eligible for investment from Yale’s endowment includes some of the world’s top 10 oil and gas producers. Yet other firms among the top 10 remain eligible. I strongly support Yale’s increasing transparency but encourage accelerated divestment from the fossil fuel sector.” 

Yale’s rival Harvard announced divestment from fossil fuels in September 2021

Hamera Shabbir covers golf and fencing for the Sports desk and the School of the Environment for the Science and Technology desk. Originally from California's Central Valley, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Environmental Studies.