Editorial: The University should divest from fossil fuels

A group of student activists, Refuel Our Future, has been pressuring Hopkins for six years to remove its investments in fossil fuels from the University’s endowment. In response to Refuel’s recent formal proposal to the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee (PIIAC), the Office of the Provost hosted the JHU Forum on Divestment from Fossil Fuels on Monday.

Four experts spoke at the forum: two for divestment and two against. Representatives of Hopkins, led by University President Ronald J. Daniels, and concerned members of the community listened to the four panelists, all of whom believe in climate change.

The Editorial Board is in favor of full divestment from fossil fuels. We commend both Refuel Our Future for their long fight to get the administration to acknowledge the movement and also the administration for not only listening to students’ concerns but for bringing experts to campus. The Editorial Board praises Provost Sunil Kumar for organizing the event and Daniels for demonstrating respect by attending the entire forum.

Speaker Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, made a strong case for divestment. Hopkins is a mission-based organization and she argued that fighting climate change is a necessary part of that mission.

Climate change is the greatest threat to our future. In order to “bring the benefits of discovery” to the world, as our mission statement says, the University must take a principled stand against the fossil fueled past and toward the bright, green future.

As the global leader in public health, Hopkins as an institution cannot afford to ignore climate change any longer. The research of Hopkins professors in Earth & Planetary Sciences and Environmental Health and Engineering has helped shape — and close — the debate on climate change. Hopkins must respect the work of its own professors, or no one else will.

The divestment movement is spreading around the world. Rather than hopping on the bandwagon as more and more organizations divest from fossil fuels, Hopkins should spearhead the movement, acting as an example for other universities.

The Editorial Board agrees with Dorsey that, over time, investment in fossil fuels is not only amoral, but also will damage the long-term profitability of our endowment. By 2050, consumption of fossil fuels hopefully will be negligible, and the industry’s profitability will have collapsed.

The University’s mission of progress will never end, so why rely on a fossil fuel industry with an expiration date? Hopkins should not only divest, but reinvest in clean energies that will become more profitable over time.

Speaker Frank Wolak, an economist at Stanford, completely dismissed Refuel and Dorsey’s moral arguments, saying that they are not “factual.” But the moral argument can’t be ignored.

Millions of people have died and more will die as a result of disastrous climate change, and without intervention it will only get worse. The fossil fuel industry has poisoned the planet irreversibly, and Hopkins must take a stand against the destruction of our home.

The fossil fuel industry has lied about climate change to protect its profit. Because it has paid certain academics to deny human-caused climate change, the University should not trust it, or fund it.

Hopkins has divested in the past both from tobacco and partially from the apartheid regime in South Africa. Both of these movements wound down after they achieved their goal. One divestment didn’t immediately lead to another. The University should not worry that Refuel’s victory would immediately spark endless debate over the endowment.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the University’s shining successes, the Center for Social Concern, we encourage Hopkins to continue to demonstrate the importance it places on the welfare of communities both on campus and around the world. To continue that vision it must divest completely from an industry that is hurting not only our present, but also our future.

Divestment is not only about reducing the measurable amount of emissions. It is about the University finally standing with scientists – our scientists – and encouraging a progressive and sustainable social vision.

As a powerful and influential University with a significant endowment, now is the time to take the sound economic and moral stand and divest from fossil fuels.

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