Category Archives: SRI News

AP: Student fossil fuel divestment movement persists

By KEVIN BEGOS
Associated Press

Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013

PITTSBURGH – The student campaign to press colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuels is entering a new phase, now that administrators at several top schools have said no.

Students say the refusals from schools including Harvard, Brown and Cornell have been both a shock and a motivation for the campaign, which is active at more than 200 schools.

On The Stability of Fossil Fuels

On Tuesday, October 1, SRI invited Nick Laird ’88 to speak on The Financial Argument for Divestment from Fossil Fuels in Norway. Laird, a managing partner at Ambolt Private Equity who has studied the economic advantages of fossil fuel divestment, left the group and other attendees with a one salient point: Oil is a bad investment. The reasoning for this is not hard to follow. Peak demand is coming right around the corner. While most of Europe is incentivizing research and production of renewables, fossil fuel giants fail to alter their business models and practices. This refusal to adapt makes for an unstable investment.

SRI thanks Nick Laird for his visit and willingness to share his expertise.

Middlebury Divestment Campaign Gets Shout-Out on This American Life

This American Life495: Hot In My Backyard495: Hot In My Backyard

MAY 17, 2013
After years of being stuck, the national conversation on climate change finally started to shift — just a little — last year, the hottest year on record in the U.S., with Hurricane Sandy flooding the New York subway, drought devastating Midwest farms, and California and Colorado on fire. Lots of people were wondering if global warming had finally arrived, here at home. This week, stories about this new reality.
Prologue: Host Ira Glass remembers Hurricane Sandy, and the feeling that we might be getting a preview of what the world would looking like as climate change continues. He talks about how stuck the country’s conversation about climate change has been, but how for the first time in a long time, it seems that might change. (2 minutes)environment
Act I: The CO2 in CO.
Reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin tells the story of Colorado’s State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken. Doesken has long believed the humans are driving climate change, but never connected it to his own life. Even after several years of some of the most devastating weather his state has ever seen, Nolan considered climate change a worry for the future. Then, last year, he watched as his state experience some of the most extreme weather it ever has. For the first time, Nolan felt like he was looking at what the future would be like where he lives. He felt scared. Julia tells the story of how this has all changed Nolan, and changed what he’s saying to the people of his home state. Julia is the lead producer of iSeeChange at station KVNF, funded by LocaloreAIR and CPB. (18 minutes)
Act II: The Right Man for the Job
Producer Ben Calhoun tells the story of a former Congressional Representative from South Carolina, Bob Inglis. Inglis is a conservative Republican who once doubted climate science. After he looked at the research, he changed his mind, and decided to speak out. In 2010, he was mocked by people in his own party and trounced in by a Tea Party-backed candidate. Since then, Bob has dedicated himself to the issue even more — and he’s now trying to create a conservative coalition for climate change action. (15 minutes)
Act III: Find an Enemy
Host Ira Glass tells the story of writer turned activist Bill McKibben. McKibben is trying to reinvent progressive politics when it come to climate change. He’s attempting to create a divestment campaign modeled after the successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The campaign is designed recast the discussion of climate change with fossil fuel companies as the villains. (18 minutes)

MC Newsroom: Student Panelists Offer Diverse Perspectives on Divestment

Link to full article

April 30, 2013

On Sunday night, April 28, Middlebury College hosted a second panel discussion on the topic of whether the institution should divest its endowment of investments in the fossil fuel industry.

While the first panel in January brought together a diverse group of professionals, this panel was comprised solely of students, whose perspectives on the complex issue of divestment and endowment management were equally varied.

Sophomore Jeannie Bartlett, the co-president of the Socially Responsible Investing Club and a member of the Advisory Council on Socially Responsible Investing, began the discussion by taking the broadest view possible, asking “Am I doing the best thing that I can be doing for the world right now? It’s a good question for all of us to ask and answer.”

On that issue, there was no debate among the panelists. But what was exposed during the course of the next two hours — with Jim Douglas, the former Vermont governor, current executive in residence at the college, and 1972 Middlebury graduate, moderating the proceedings — were differences of opinion on how to achieve what was best for the world and what role Middlebury should play in this effort.

Divesting from fossil fuel holdings would not only align Middlebury’s investment practices with its position as a leader in environmental education, Bartlett argued, but it would also place the college at the forefront of a national movement. “The divestment movement is bringing the conversation about climate change to new audiences, we are expanding the conversation to college and university board rooms, to investment banking sectors.”

Senior Janet Bering, an environmental studies and biology major and a member of Middlebury’s Environmental Council disagreed. “I’m skeptical that divestment is a tool for change,” she said. “I think it’s a distraction; it’s not the right conversation that we should be having.” Too much time and energy is being spent discussing financial models and endowment practices, Bering said, rather than climate change, and largely for symbolic ends. “We need a better movement. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not divestment.”

“I think symbolism is hugely important,” countered senior Zach Drennan, a double major in political science and economics and the author of the forthcoming book “The End is Not Near: How Energy Innovation Can Unlock Local Economies and Avert Climate Catastrophe.” “I find our investment in fossil fuel companies to be hypocritical to our position as a leader in environmental education and a champion of sustainability initiatives. We need to bring our sources of funding in line with our values as an institution.”

But how? Junior Ben Wiggins, a political science and economics major and a member of the Student Investment Club, pointed to the complexities of the college’s endowment management, in which an outsourced investment office (Investure) combines Middlebury’s portfolio with those of six other colleges and universities and seven charitable foundations.

“We either convince all of the other schools and foundations that participate with us at Investure that they should divest, or we leave Investure. And at what risk?” Is it worth it to divest if it means freezing staff salaries, he asked. If it threatens our financial aid budget? If it means deviating from our commitment to holding comprehensive fee increases to the Consumer Price Index, plus one percent?

Senior Michael Patterson, a classical studies major and private investor, spoke to those concerns: “Divestment increases risk within our endowment because it reduces diversification. . . . Diversification provides the only means to reduce risk because it protects us from the uncertainties of the future. By spreading a portfolio’s assets across different companies, industries, and asset classes, a portfolio has greater protection from the volatility of the market.”

Patterson called attention to the relationship between Middlebury’s endowment and financial aid, pointing out Middlebury’s $55,570 comprehensive fee for 2012-2013, the 42 percent of the student body receiving financial aid, and the average grant per student of $36,277. He also noted that Middlebury spent $37 million on financial aid. “Without an endowment capable of sustaining a $37 million expenditure (and growing) every year, Middlebury will not be able to provide adequate financial aid,” said Patterson. “This is why it is absolutely imperative that our endowment achieves maximum returns through proper diversification of assets.”

Wiggins and junior Ryan Kim, an economics major and member of the Student Investment Club, both voiced the opinion that if they had, as Kim stated, “mathematical proof,” that the endowment would not suffer by divesting from fossil fuels, then they would both change their position and support divestment.

Drennan and sophomore Teddy Smyth, an environmental studies major and student organizer of the club Divest for Our Future, both offered that divesting from fossil fuels would not only be in keeping with the college’s environmental stewardship, but it would make for a sound investing strategy. “I’d argue that it’s a risk to stay invested [in fossil fuel companies],” said Drennan. “Any breakthrough in clean energy or any future regulation of the fossil fuel industries will make these companies a lot less valuable.”

Drennan concluded by offering a way forward. “Not all fossil fuels are created equal, some are much more dangerous and harmful than others. So perhaps there’s a middle way. Maybe we first focus on the top 100 coal companies. Let’s divest from coal as soon as possible. Let’s make a realistic accomplishment. See how it works. Then we can move on to oil.”

Reporting by Matt Jennings
Photography by Brendan Mahoney

“Midd Does The Math” with Bill McKibben!

SUNDAY,  DOORS OPEN AT 7:30PM FOR STUDENTS, 7:45PM FOR THE COMMUNITY, MEAD CHAPEL

Bill McKibben speaks at a Do the Math event - photo from rollingstone.com

Bill McKibben speaks at a Do the Math event earlier this winter. Photo from rollingstone.com.

Middlebury, VT – This January 20th, Middlebury College will kick-off a formal process to consider divesting its endowment from fossil fuels and arms manufacturers with a major “Do The Math” event with writer and activist Bill McKibben.

“If you’re curious about divestment, this event will be a chance to see why it has suddenly emerged as the biggest student movement in a very long time,” says McKibben, Middlebury’s Schumann Distinguished Scholar and the founder of the international climate campaign 350.org.

Over 200 colleges and universities across the country have joined the new fossil fuel divestment campaign that McKibben helped launch last fall with 350.org’s sold-out 21-city “Do The Math” tour. The campaign is modeled on the 1980s campaign to divest from apartheid South Africa.

This November, in response to a surge of student activism at Middlebury, President Ronald Liebowitz revealed that 3.6% of Middlebury’s $900 million endowment is invested in fossil fuels. The President agreed to a formal process to consider divestment that will begin this January.

“Midd Does The Math’ will offer the Middlebury community a chance to engage in a movement that belongs to all of us,” said Greta Neubauer, a student organizer on campus. “We appreciate the administration’s commitment to dialogue and look forward to this conversation yielding a commitment to action.”

Over 700 students, faculty, administrators and community members are expected to attend the Jan 20th Do The Math event at Middlebury. Press are requested to RSVP for the event since organizers expect a sell-out crowd.

Harnessing the power of our endowment

The Middlebury College endowment is worth $840 million.  That is more than any of us (I assume!) will make in our lifetime.  However, for four years, as students of this college, we have the opportunity to influence how that money is invested.  This requires asking ourselves what our values our.  We are passionate about our identities, our concerns and our values in the classroom, but we sometimes forget that the money allowing us to be here maybe we contradicting those values in very real ways.

The Socially Responsible Investment club tries to identify the collective values of our community and ensure that they are represented in our investments.  We hope you will join us.