he economics of fossil fuel divestment show good signs for Vassar.
A recent report from the Aperio Group, an investment management firm, claims that the risk to colleges’ endowments from going “fossil-free” is negligible, meaning that Vassar should have no qualms about divesting from the fossil fuel industry. In fact, divestment could strengthen the endowment by pulling out of the turbulent coal, oil and natural gas markets and reinvesting in sustainable energy companies. As Vassar students, we are all rightfully concerned about the College’s financial security. We want to make sure that Vassar has enough money to continue its stellar financial aid program, pay its employees well, and foster its vibrant student body.
Encouraging Vassar to reinvest in sustainable companies and in local community development is one way that students can fight for a more just world and for Vassar’s well-being at the same time. Putting our endowment money towards wind and solar could bolster the size of the College’s endowment and ensure Vassar’s leadership for future generations.
As socially-conscious students, its is hard to stomach West Virginia’s blown-up mountaintops, BP’s oil spill, and the potential of hydrofracking rigs in New York. In addition to being morally indefensible, these extraction practices bring huge financial risks. Withdrawing our investments in coal, oil, and natural gas companies means that Vassar would no longer be hampered by the chaotic markets of these industries and could better pursue sustainable development. “[Divestment is] probably going to get us out ahead of the carbon bubble that’s coming,” said environmental activist Bill McKibben in an online address to Vassar.
The Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign is calling for a twelve (12)-year timeframe for divestment, giving the College plenty of time to reallocate its money to socially-equitable investment funds. Through the expertise of the college’s trustees, divestment can be a safe and meaningful avenue of social action.
At the campaign’s recent Go Fossil Free! teach-in, Professor of Economics Paul Ruud discussed the feasibility of divestment and endorsed transitioning the endowment away from fossil fuels. Divestment is catching on as a necessary environmental maneuver and as sound economic policy—just two weeks ago, Sterling College in Vermont announced its divestment strategy, making it the third college to divest (Unity and Hampshire are the other two). In addition, a bill in the Vermont House of Representatives would see the entire state’s portfolio divested—and the city of Seattle is already well on its way.
Through divesting with other schools,, Vassar can change the political landscape in Washington, D.C. to shift our economy towards community wind farms and green development which nurtures communities and promotes a conscious relationship with the land.
Right now, Vassar is invested in the very companies that undermine our future. But that can change—and the change starts with student support. Whether through signing a petition or reaching out to your VSA representatives, students can show solidarity for a green endowment. As such, I hope that the VSA will pass its divestment resolution at its upcoming meeting; this resolution will affirm that climate change is an issue of “overriding social concern” that Vassar must rally to stop. In acknowledging the economic import of divestment, the VSA can encourage the Board of Trustees to act.
In the end, divestment is something that students and administrators, faculty and trustees, alumni/ae and parents can all champion—because it is right for the planet, it is right for Vassar, and it is right for the next generation of students, who will know that their college has assured them a sustainable future.
—Gabe Dunsmith ‘15 is an Environmental Studies major.