by Rebecca Hahn and Brett Smith
The support for Carleton to divest from fossil fuels has been high for years, and is only continuing to grow. This past reunion, the alumni Divest Carleton group collected over 300 additional signatures on its petition, for a total of over 1300. The student petition, as of 2017, listed over 1000 signatures. The recently formed Carls Talk Back movement also included divestment from fossil fuels in its list of demands.
Divest Carleton’s request is for the College to divest from all its fossil fuel holdings, including those commingled in the endowment. But the Board of Trustees hasn’t even taken the easy step of dropping its fossil fuel direct holdings. This is despite the near-unanimous recommendation by the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee in 2015 that it do so (a recommendation that the Board itself requested).
Only the largest 200 global fossil fuel companies are targeted by the campaign. Each year Fossil Free Indexes publishes a list of these companies, ranked by the carbon content of their known fossil fuel reserves. It is widely acknowledged that these reserves contain enough carbon to raise global temperature beyond the level that risks severe climate disruption. Since the reserves are already being counted in companies’ balance sheets as corporate assets, the prospect that a significant portion of them will need to be left in the ground is an obvious threat to their bottom lines.
To avoid this, these companies do what they can to prevent significant action on climate change. They use their economic and political power to influence elections, lobby, and conduct disinformation campaigns. The College currently holds two of these large companies, Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy. Carleton has no business holding these companies when their political spending and business practices are antithetical to positive programs to fight climate change.
Anadarko and Noble have for years financially supported the election of political candidates who tend to be climate change deniers and who consistently vote against measures that would address the problem. For example, in the 2016 political cycle, Anadarko spent over $1.4 million to help elect members of Congress. The great bulk of these Representatives and Senators had extremely low ratings on climate change issues from the League of Conservation voters. At least eight of them had a zero score. Over the same period, Noble spent almost $100,000 on campaign contributions. In addition, over the last 10 years, Anadarko and Noble have spent over $46 million to lobby Congress in support of legislation that helps fossil fuels, slows the development of clean energy resources, and/or blocks measures to address climate change.
Further, in terms of business plans, neither of these companies shows any inclination to invest significant resources in clean renewable energy. Instead, they tout their fossil fuel sources and technologies, and their success in the hunt for more carbon. As the 2017 Anadarko annual report states: “Anadarko’s mission is to deliver a sustainable rate of return to shareholders by developing, acquiring, and exploring for oil and gas resources vital to the world’s health and welfare.” The 2017 Noble Energy annual report is no better: “Our purpose, Energizing the World, Bettering People’s Lives, reflects our commitment to find and deliver affordable energy through crude oil, natural gas and NGL exploration and production….” Both companies clearly focus on their fossil fuel business, including finding more reserves, not on developing alternative energy sources.
The business plans and political actions of Anadarko and Noble are inconsistent with Carleton’s commitment to address the problem of climate change. By divesting, we would disassociate ourselves from these actions and put a spotlight on them. We would become part of a global movement to weaken those who slow progress. Contrary to the Board’s position, there is no way to be politically unengaged or neutral in this situation. We cannot turn a blind eye to what these companies are doing. We are undermining the moral and intellectual integrity of the College by claiming to remain neutral.
The consequences of climate change are already upon us and will only get worse with every day we fail to seriously address the issue. The newly released report from the IPCC makes it frighteningly clear that we only have a limited amount of time to prevent the most catastrophic changes to our weather and environment, perhaps two decades or less. It is an existential imperative that the College do everything it can to combat climate change, especially on behalf of future generations of Carleton students.
CRIC and Carls Talk Back have recognized Carleton’s responsibility in their recommendations to divest. It is time for the Board to do the same.
Note: Carleton’s Board of Trustees will be meeting on campus next week, October 25-27. Students from the Divest Carleton group will be hand delivering a summary of last week’s alarming report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to every Trustee they can reach. They are also planning a rally during the Trustee visit. To join the rally or help contact Trustees, visit the Divest Carleton Facebook page for more details.
Published in The Carletonian on October 20, 2018.