For the past six years, the student group, Refuel our Future (Refuel), has been calling for our Board of Trustees to divest its endowment from fossil fuels as a way to show the University’s commitment to an environmentally sustainable future. Last December, the Board announced that they will divest the endowment from thermal coal. This is a step in the right direction but falls short of what we and many others called for.
The process for divestment began with a student proposal to the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee (PIIAC), a group comprised of faculty, students and staff, whose mission is to evaluate and recommend divestment decisions to the Board of Trustees. Last September, PIIAC released a series of recommendations unequivocally calling for divesting from Carbon Underground 200 Comapnies, which are considered leaders in the fossil fuel industry.
In its report, PIIAC argued that the University has a moral responsiblity to divest, especially considering the incoming catastrophic effects of climate change. They pointed out how fossil fuel divestment aligned with the values of our community and complemented other sustainibility campaigns on campus.
Last semester, during finals period, the Board of Trustees released a decision ignoring the majority of PIIAC’s recommendations and instead opted to only divest from thermal coal companies. They cited that further divestment would compromise the Board’s “fiduciary duty” to manage its financial assets even though PIIAC argued that divestment “can be managed such that the University’s mission would not be harmed.”
The Board of Trustees made this decision behind closed doors. We do not know how indivdual Trustees voted. We are curious about what other sources of information they consulted that led them to their decision.
The University announced the Board’s decision with much undeserved fanfare. In a masterful move of manipulating public perception, our school sent out press releases touting its commitment to combatting the negative health and environmental impacts of thermal coal. While we certainly agree that burning thermal coal is detrimental to the environment and public health, this is only one fossil fuel among many.
Furthermore, because this decision came in the midst of finals period, students like those in Refuel did not have time to respond.
With categorical evidnece that sea levels are rising and that the average global temperature is increasing, we need to show strong commitments to combatting climate change, especially given our current presidential administration’s refusal to take climate change seriously.
The fight for fossil fuel divestment at this University is far from over. We encourage students to stay involved with Refuel Our Future and continue pushing the University towards total divestment. We cannot grow complacent. It’s time for Hopkins to divest the rest.