Divesting: Carleton’s time is now

By Beck Woollen; Published in the Carletonian on February 14, 2020

Carleton is committed to a sustainable future, and the College’s website says so:

“Carleton’s official colors might be maize and blue, but look around campus and you’ll be seeing green.”

The College has made great strides toward its 2011 commitment to be carbon-free by 2050. Several halls on campus have Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design (LEED) certifications, we’re partially wind-powered, and most recently, Carleton installed its geothermal well system, which aims for a 35–40 percent decrease in carbon emissions from the College’s central plant. Whereas these actions all indicate an impressive momentum toward a fossil-free Carleton, there exists a weak link in the chain: our endowment. There is a national momentum building on college campuses in favor of removing fossil fuel from endowments. This act is called divesting, and it is specifically targeted toward the top-200 fossil fuel companies. This figure is composed of the top 100 coal companies and the top 100 natural gas and oil companies worldwide. These rankings are based on emissions potential from companies’ reported reserves. The number of institutions making firm commitments to divest is increasing, and some of them are quite similar to Carleton. On May 4, 2019, several Carleton alumni noted in The Carletonian that “College of the Atlantic, Warren Wilson, Northland, Pitzer, Lewis and Clark, Whitman, and most recently Middlebury” had all made such commitments. Last fall, Smith college joined the list, and our neighbors at St. Olaf are pushing for a similar shift, and so have larger institutions, including Syracuse University, and recently, Georgetown University. This past month, the student body presidents of Big 10 universities unanimously passed a resolution calling upon their institutions to take the same action. For years, Divest Carleton has sought a similar commitment from our Board of Trustees: a freeze on new fossil fuel investments in Carleton’s portfolio and divestment from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds. It is our firm belief that the time to take such action has never been better

The Carleton endowment consists of several main types of investment, the most accessible of which is our direct holdings. Namely, this portion of the endowment entails a more straightforward relationship between investors and firms. In 2015, the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee highlighted that fossil fuels composed approximately 3.2% of the direct holdings or 0.54% of the total endowment at the time. That number has since dropped to zero, meaning that Carleton currently does not possess direct holdings in fossil fuels. This marks great progress. Regrettably, though, there is a critical factor that inhibits Divest Carleton from recognizing the direct holdings as being clean: we are aware of no commitment made by the trustees to not reinvest in fossil fuels.

Carleton students currently matriculate from 42 countries and all 50 states. As anthropogenic climate issues proliferate both domestically and internationally, it stands to reason that many Carls’ homes may already be facing the negative consequences. As a whole, the fossil fuel industry has engaged in egregious behaviors, which range from negligence toward indigenous peoples in the path of their pipelines to active efforts to suppress the truth about climate. In effect, profits from the fossil fuel industry are blood money. Divest Carleton finds that the financial support of these harmful corporations contradicts the conscientiousness and global engagement that Carleton stands for. The college mission explains that our institution seeks to “prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges.” Our investment portfolio ought to walk the talk.

When reflecting on the history of college investments, it is noteworthy that Carleton hesitated to completely divest from apartheid-era South African companies. In reflecting on the collapsing apartheid regime, divestment is seen as having been effective. Divest Carleton believes that our institution still has the option to help lead the fossil fuel divestment movement, not to simply follow. We suspect that fossil fuel companies are unlikely to be the only blue-chip stock in our direct holdings, indicated by their small percentage of the 2015 endowment.
We foresee divestment being particularly influential for two reasons: cumulative economic impact and public image. With respect to cumulative economic impact, gofossilfree.org states that 1,184 institutions are currently committed to divestment. While the effect of Carleton divesting is small in isolation, it is far more imposing when attached to a movement of this magnitude. As for public image, it is our belief that investment condones the behavior of a firm. It is thus a very strong vehicle for societal change. As arguably the most imminent threat to our future, climate change is now more serious than it ever has been. Divest Carleton finds that committing to not reinvest in the top 200 fossil fuel companies is necessary for Carleton to best serve its role as an environmental leader, and as a steward of our futures.

Thus, we call upon the Board of Trustees to make a firm commitment to not reinvest in the fossil fuel industry as part of Carleton’s direct holdings – a commitment is all that is needed to make these clean. Additionally, Divest Carleton believes a similar commitment ought to be made in the comingled funds portion of our endowment. Having grown up in Minnesota and knowing of Carleton for the majority of my life, it is my personal belief that continued negligence toward these commitments highly misrepresents the role of environmental leadership Carleton advertises and holds in the public eye.

Trustees Divestment Update

Dear Trustee:

We are writing with a brief update on the Divest Carleton movement and the wider divestment movement’s progress over the last few months.

A few weeks ago, we emailed Mr. Weitz and Mr. Wender regarding a change to Carleton’s endowment: the College no longer holds any direct fossil fuel investments. The Carletonian ran our letter in its January 17, 2020, edition. You can read it yourself here:

https://thecarletonian.com/2020/01/16/letter-to-the-chairs-of-the-board-of-trustees-and-its-investment-committee-from-divest-carleton-continue-to-divest-from-fossil-fuel-holdings/

This is a significant step forward, though we remain concerned that the College has made no commitment not to reinvest in such holdings. We also urge divestment from fossil fuel companies in the commingled funds.

As you may be aware, the fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining strength. When students and alumni disrupted the Harvard/Yale football game in November, they brought it to the world’s attention. Just last week, the student body presidents of every Big 10 university passed a resolution calling for their schools to divest from fossil fuels, stating that colleges “cannot be truly carbon neutral while investing billions in the fossil fuel industry.” All types of institutions are joining the movement, from Simon Frasier University to faith organizations to the Welsh Assembly, which just divested its pension fund. Altogether, 1181 institutions with managed assets of nearly $14 trillion have committed to divesting from fossil fuels.

This progress has been fueled by a widening realization that these investments are neither environmentally nor financially sustainable. Scientists continue to issue warnings about tipping points and shrinking timelines. In November, the European Investment Bank announced they would cease funding fossil fuel projects at the end of 2021. In December, Goldman Sachs restricted its financing for coal and Arctic oil projects. BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, announced last month that they will limit their investments in coal and will build stronger ESG and sustainable portfolio options. BlackRock’s CEO, Larry Fink, told CEOs, “I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

The growing threat of climate change and the diminishing prospects of fossil fuel companies will continue to sharpen into focus as time goes by. We will continue to fight for Carleton’s present and future students. We hope you’ll join them and us, and commit to a policy of fossil fuel divestment.

Regards,
Rebecca Hahn ’09, on behalf of the alumni of Divest Carleton

Letter to Urge Full and Permanent Divestment

Letter to the Chairs of the Board of Trustees and its Investment Committee, from Divest Carleton: continue to divest from fossil fuel holdings

By The Students of Divest Carleton on January 17, 2020

Dear Mr. Weitz and Mr. Wender:

We were recently heartened to learn that, as of September 30, 2019, Carleton no longer holds any direct public equity stocks in fossil fuel companies.

This marks a significant change in Carleton’s portfolio. Five years ago, Carleton was directly invested in nine major fossil fuel companies, and only one remained on the list in June 2019. We urge the Board of Trustees and its Investment Committee to continue down this encouraging path, taking further steps to distance the College from similar investments, including:

  1. A commitment not to reinvest in direct fossil fuel holdings.
  2. A plan for analyzing the fossil fuel holdings in Carleton’s commingled funds and divesting from as many as possible, as quickly as possible.

We have long believed that remaining invested in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies is both fiscally irresponsible and ethically indefensible. It is also a betrayal of Carleton’s mission statement. To stay beneath the warming limit set by the Paris Agreement of two degrees Celsius, 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. Supporting major fossil fuel companies is at odds with the College’s mission to prepare its students for “lives of learning that are broadly rewarding, professionally satisfying, and of service to humanity.”

Such future lives are threatened by an ongoing, increasingly severe climate crisis—especially those of Carleton’s most economically vulnerable students.

As you know, there is widespread support in the Carleton community for divesting the endowment from fossil fuels. Over a thousand students signed a divestment petition and 75 faculty members submitted a letter arguing in favor of divestment. So far there are over 1600 names, including over 1500 living alumni from 68 classes, on the alumni Divest Carleton petition.

Several peer colleges, including Whitman College, Middlebury College and Smith College, have recently decided to divest their endowments from fossil fuels. If Carleton wishes to preserve its “long-standing reputation for leadership in environmental initiatives,” as described by President Poskanzer in the 2011 Climate Action Plan, it is time to take explicit responsibility for the impact of its financial resources. It is time to permanently and fully divest the endowment from fossil fuels.

We hope to hear your response to the Divest Carleton movement soon.

Regards,

Rebecca Hahn, on behalf of the alumni of Divest Carleton

Tuomas Sivula, on behalf of the students of Divest Carleton

Published in Viewpoint

Divest Carleton alumni petition statistics, December 2019

Happy December, Divest Carleton community!

In 2019, we have added 264 new names to the alumni divestment petition, for a current total of 1610! These include several current students as well as Carleton family and friends, in addition to 245 alumni. 1509 living alumni, representing 68 class years, have now signed the petition.

We thought it would be interesting to do an analysis of which classes currently have the most signatures on the petition and which added the most names over the last year. We hope this encourages you to reach out to your classmates and friends to join our movement! The stronger we get, the louder our voice, and the more of an impact we can make in pushing Carleton to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

Continue reading

Letter to Trustees

Dear Trustee:

Prior to this month’s Carleton Board of Trustees meeting, we are writing to update you on recent developments in the Divest Carleton alumni movement, which continues to gain momentum and to support and partner with student actions on campus.

In the last year, we have added nearly 300 signatures to the alumni petition, for a current total of 1595. This includes 1496 living alumni signatures: over 5% of the entire population, representing 68 classes.

These alumni make their interest in divestment known in multiple ways. Since Carleton missed this June’s deadline to divest its endowment from fossil fuels, $2418.13 was distributed from the Carleton College Fossil Free Fund to the nonprofit environmental organizations 350.org and MN350. This brings the total lifetime distributions from the fund to $9199.76, collected from 121 donations. The fund will remain open for further donations through the upcoming academic year, with its next due date set as June 2020. Its current balance sits at $2100.

June 21, 2019, Goodhue Superlounge

At this year’s reunion, a concerned group of alumni organized a panel discussion on divestment from fossil fuels and socially responsible investing. It featured student, alumni, and faculty panelists speaking on topics such as the economics of Carleton’s endowment, the history of the Divest Carleton movement, and the role of the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC) in the college’s ethical investing decisions.

This event filled the Goodhue Superlounge, with 88 audience members eagerly volunteering questions and comments throughout the hour and a half time slot.

As the Divest Carleton movement grows, so do the worldwide movements to divest and the wider awareness of the threat of climate change. So far, 1135 institutions with managed assets of $11.48 trillion have committed to divesting from fossil fuels. Recently, the entire University of California system joined their ranks, committing to divesting its $13 billion endowment and $70 billion pension. UC’s CIO and Investment Committee Chair stated: “We believe hanging onto fossil fuel assets is a financial risk.” Just this past Friday, Smith College announced that it would also divest its $1.9 billion endowment. Both the ethical and the safe choice, these days, is to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

Many Carleton students and alumni joined this September’s Global Climate Strike, which organizers estimate drew 7.6 million people into the streets to demand systemic action in response to climate change. These protesters and all the alumni, faculty, parents, staff, and students of Divest Carleton agree: the time to act is now. We invite you to read a recent Viewpoint article, submitted by alumni and students, on the ways in which the college can better address the climate emergency, including by divesting from fossil fuels.

Thank you for your time, and for all you do for Carleton. Please let us know if we can answer any questions.

Regards,
The Divest Carleton alumni leadership team

Mindy Bell ‘80
Eleanor Haase ‘79
Rebecca Hahn ‘09
Maddie Halloran ‘14
David Loy ‘69
Kathryn Olney P’15
Peter Scheuermann ‘12
Dimitri Smirnoff ‘15
Brett Smith ‘64
Rev. Dwight Wagenius ‘64

Divestment makes sense for universities (and colleges)

October 16, 2019

Divestment Makes Sense for Universities

To the Editor:

Divestment is a powerful financial tool that reduces the flow of money to the fossil-fuel industry. The purchase of bonds directly finances the company’s exploration and development of new oil and gas reserves. These bonds are paid off by selling the oil and gas 10 to 30 years in the future. In the short term, the cost of borrowing for marginal projects such as Arctic oil may force their abandonment. Divestment also lowers the public’s demand for their stock, and thus decreases the company’s market value. The majority of executive pay is tied to the company’s stock price, and so top executives respond to the stock price in making decisions.

When investors invest in fossil-fuel companies whose value is partly based on proved reserves, shareholders will suffer losses when stock prices decline as they correctly incorporate the continually improved competitiveness of noncarbon energy and the impact of potential stranded assets on future company earnings. The stock market operates with imperfect information as investors and companies make decisions based on guestimates about the future stream of profits. Just as investors compete to be the first to find a new growth industry, they compete to be the first to jump out of a dying one. Divesting early protects our pension and endowment funds.

Market returns for the energy sector have been relatively low compared to other sectors. The cumulative total return to the energy sector from the market peak (Oct 2007) to Dec 31, 2018 is -4.8 percent, compared to the S&P 500 averaged return of 355 percent.  The outlook is ominous. A UK study predicts a global wealth loss of $1 trillion to $4 trillion resulting from continued investments in fossil-fuel discovery and extraction by countries, including the U.S., by 2035. Leaders of over 30 central banks endorsed a report warning that a massive reallocation of capital will be required to reduce greenhouse emissions dramatically.

For the past seven years, thousands of students, faculty, staff, and alumni have repeatedly urged UC to consider both the moral implications and financial dangers of continued fossil-fuel investments. Over the summer the UC faculty approved by 78 percent to recommend that the Regents divest the UC endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Consequently Jagdeep Bachher, Chief Investment Officer, and Regent Richard Sherman, Chair of the Investments Committee reported that after looking closely at their fossil-fuel assets, they decided that fossil-fuel assets are risky investments without compensating returns. The UC Regents announced divestment of all fossil-fuel investments, including stocks, bonds, and funds of all fossil-fuel companies and major suppliers, from its Endowment and Retirement portfolios, which total $83 billion. Plus UC has pledged to direct $1 billion in funding of alternative energy sources by 2020. At the Regent’s meeting, Bachher credited student activism for raising his awareness about the issue and said the students were his early warning system.

Divestment with reinvestment is one effective policy that universities can use to preserve a functioning biosphere for future generations. Students and faculty should continue their activities that inform their university leaders that divestment is imperative for financial, environmental, and moral reasons.

Clair Brown
Professor of Economics
University of California at Berkeley

Eric Halgren
Professor of Radiology
University of California at San Diego

Reprinted from: https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/divestment-makes-sense-for-universities/

Carleton and Climate Crisis

An Open Letter to the Carletonian, September 29, 2019

Earth is in the midst of a climate crisis. In July of this year, several higher education networks concerned with sustainability recognized this crisis by declaring a climate emergency. Carleton indirectly supported this emergency declaration as a member of Second Nature, a network of about 600 colleges and universities.

The organizations declaring a climate emergency simultaneously published a Climate Emergency Letter that they planned to give to government officials and the media before the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September. The organizations called on other networks and educational institutions around the world to join with them in signing the letter.

So far, despite appeals from dozens of alumni, President Poskanzer has refused to sign Carleton onto the emergency letter individually. We believe that signing the letter directly is important to reaffirm Carleton’s commitment to taking emergency action and to emphasize its awareness that climate change poses a threat to Carleton students. See the email to President Poskanzer and his response here.

But signing the letter is just the first step. We face a climate emergency, and Carleton’s response to date does not reflect that reality. Significant new action is required.

Continue reading

Carls Join Climate Strike

Carleton students and alumni from Northfield and beyond were active in the September 20th Global Climate Strikes.

Alumni Eleanor Haase, ’79, rallied at Northfield’s event which was encapsulated by this KYMN radio story. The collage of photos below are also from the story.

Images from KYMN Story, Climate Strike in Northfield, Minnesota

Alumni Jorde Ranum, ’15, marched in the Denver, Colorado Climate Strike!

Jorde Ranum, 2015, marching in the Denver, Colorado Climate Strike

Maddie Halloran, ’14, did her part in the Arcata, California Climate Strike!

Images by Maddie Halloran, 2014, from the Arcata, California Climate Strike

Alumni Dwight Wagenius, ’64, checked in from the St. Paul, Minnesota strike with other members of the Mayflower UCC!

Mike Mullen at the St. Paul march with other members of his congregation from Mayflower UCC

Alumni Mike Mullen, ’90, sent a photo of him marching with his sign at the Boston Event at City Hall Plaza. He reports: “With all the colleges and universities in the area, there was a good amount of focus on divestiture.” Thank you for that hopeful comment!

Mike Mullen in Boston, Massachusetts speaking for the trees with The Lorax

Alumni Mindy Bell, ’80, was one of the thousand plus participants in the Flagstaff Climate Strike. The energy was phenomenal and you can read the KNAU article and see some of the images from Ryan Heinsius below.

Images by Ryan Heinsius, Climate Strike in Flagstaff, Arizona

If you attended a strike please share your story and images to add to this blog! Send them to divestcarleton@gmail.com. And if you want to experience more global hope, relish the amazing photos from worldwide marches in this CNN article.

President Poskanzer refuses alumni request to add Carleton’s name to Climate Emergency Letter

On July 18, 2019, forty-seven Carleton alumni emailed a simple request to President Poskanzer.

Dear President Poskanzer,

We write to urge you to add Carleton’s name to a Climate Emergency Letter to be shared with key government officials and the media prior to this September’s UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit. This letter has been organized by the EAUC (the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education), the UN Environment’s Youth and Education Alliance, and Second Nature. Carleton is a member of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Network. Continue reading