In response to the dire threat of climate change, students at the USM and other Maine system campuses have joined over 300 colleges and universities around the country in calling on our Boards of Trustees to divest our endowments from fossil fuels. Unity College and College of the Atlantic have already embraced divestment, two of the first colleges in the country to do so.
As extreme weather continues to illuminate the harsh realities of our changing climate, there is mounting evidence that fossil fuel divestment is not only the moral path forward, but also the more economically sound. A 2013 report from the Tellus Institute demonstrates that fossil fuel divestment poses little to no risk to endowment portfolios. In fact, despite the immense profitability of the fossil fuel industry in the last century, fossil fuels are now perhaps the riskiest stocks on the market.
Fossil fuel companies include their in-the-ground reserves when they value their assets, distorting those companies’ values. According to Tellus, “60 to 80 percent of the proved coal, oil and gas reserves … are effectively ‘unburnable’ if the world is to avoid severe climatic destabilization.” If fossil fuel companies are allowed to carry out their business plan, our opportunity to curb the effects of climate change will be completely lost. On top of climate chaos, the impending “carbon bubble” caused by overvalued assets could lead to an economic catastrophe.
We at USM have reason to be proud of our school’s commitment to sustainability and the preservation of our land-based economy. As signatories to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, USM has pledged to limit campus greenhouse gas emissions. However, the influence of the fossil fuel industry on federal policy is a major detractor to the impressive work being done at USM and elsewhere. Investment in fossil fuels can no longer be considered good financial stewardship.
The success of campaigns such as the Anti-apartheid student movement of the 80’s shows us divestment is possible. It is time to fulfill our academic ideals and our responsibility as stewards of a livable planet by divesting from fossil fuels now.
Meaghan LaSala contributed this piece. She is studying Women and Gender Studies and Environmental Science at USM. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.