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College discloses oil investments
In efforts to increase revenue, colleges throughout the country invest in profitable companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and British Petroleum. These large corporations, however, are also increasing fossil fuel emissions, prompting students from 230 colleges, including Columbia, to try to persuade their administrations to cease financial support of these businesses.
In December 2012, the Environmental Protection Initiative at Columbia, an environmental student organization on campus, joined the national fossil fuel divestment campaign led by 350.org, an international grassroots group dedicated to solving climate change.
According to Ken Gotsch, chief financial officer, the college invests $8 million dollars in companies associated with petroleum, gasoline, natural gas and coal, all of which are considered fossil fuels. These companies include Murphy Oil Corporation and Apache Corporation, both oil and gas companies.
“Most endowments or pension funds are investing in the economy as a whole and the oil, natural gas and coal [industries] are segment of the overall economy,” Gotsch said. “With the environmental research that is coming out and the growing consensus about global warming and its impact on the world, [fossil fuel industries] certainly make environmental groups interested in this area.”
EPIC President Virginia Baker, a junior fiction writing major, said she hopes the college will decrease its investment because the fossil fuel industry is detrimental to environmental health, potentially contributing to monumental climate changes over the next 16 years.
Baker, along with other EPIC members, delivered President Warrick L. Carter a Christmas card and a letter urging him to consider divestment from the fossil fuel industry before the end of the fall 2012 semester. The group wanted to meet with Carter in person to further discuss the initiative, but Baker said he was not available.
Before leaving Carter’s office, the group gave a presentation to the president’s secretarial staff, who expressed enthusiasm about the campaign, Baker said. As of press time, EPIC is planning a follow-up meeting with Carter to further discuss the group’s efforts and ideas about divesting in fossil
“I think [burning fossil fuels] is the most important problem humanity is facing today because it is not about gender, race or one country versus another country,” Baker said. “The entire world is in this, and it’s about everyone’s future. It is not one specific sector of existence, it’s about existence as a whole.”
According to Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, scientists worldwide are concerned that Earth will become hotter as a result of carbon dioxide emissions, such as fossil fuels, heating the atmosphere. He added that Earth’s average annual temperature is currently 33.44 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than it should be, because of fossil fuel emission.
Henn said all environmentalists can agree that if the atmosphere’s temperature increases to an average of 34.16 degrees Fahrenheit, more major climate change will take place.
“Whether people are concerned about the science of climate change or just concerned about what they are seeing outside of their window, a lot of people are beginning to realize that we need to take action and go after the industry that has been blocking the potential for solutions,” Henn said.
To prevent fossil fuel emissions from reaching this limit, industries around the world must not emit more than 565 billion tons of carbon, a fossil fuel emission, into the atmosphere, Henn said. Currently, the major corporations in which colleges invest have enough fossil fuels stored in their reserves to emit 2,795 billion tons, Henn added.
According to Henn, two colleges, Unity College, an environmental community college in Unity, Maine, and Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., have already decided to divest from the fossil fuel industry. In the ‘80s, Hampshire College was the first college to divest from corporations in South Africa because of its apartheid policies, which is what inspired the current fossil fuel campaign, Henn said.
“A lot of this campaign is modeled on that previous divestment movement that succeeded in getting exactly 155 colleges and universities to divest in some ways from South Africa,” Henn said. “It helped build a lot of political pressure to support the
Jason Radford, EPIC member and senior art & design major, said he has been working closely with Baker to create a petition for students to sign that will be given to Carter.
According to Baker, EPIC will hang posters, hold events and set up tables in various building lobbies to raise awareness about this issue throughout the semester.
“[The divestment campaign] is really important because it will help our reputation, and that is what we are trying to get the whole administration to see,” Radford said. “We are not the bullies who are trying to make them look bad, but we are trying to help them because so many organizations are signing onto the campaign.”