AREDAY Tackles Divestment of Fossil Fuels

Aug 13, 2014

The American Renewable Energy Day, or AREday, continues in Aspen. Participants are exploring all manner of angles about clean energy… and also what tactics to take against oil, coal, and other fossil fuel development. 

An increasing number of religious institutions have decided to divest, or stop investing in fossil fuels. Reverend Fletcher Harper is an Episcopal priest... and Executive Director of the group Green Faith. He described the motivators for groups he works with.

“There are two criteria that matter most to faith groups. One is, is the industry in question causing grave harm, I mean, really grave harm? And the second is, is it demonstrating intractable resistance to change?”

Harper said groups he works with believe both are becoming true for fossil fuel-based companies. Yesterday’s panel also featured two students. Harvard University senior Chloe Maxmin is co-founder of an effort at her school to end fossil fuel investments.

“The purpose of the divestment movement is to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry, weaken their  corporate influence over our government, and build mass political support for climate legislation.”

Harvard does have an employee who specifically focuses on sustainable investing with the endowment, according to the New York Times. But Maxmin, the only woman on yesterday’s panel, said it’s still a struggle.

“Over seventy thousand people have signed onto our campaign, including over three thousand students. Despite all of this support, our president said, on camera, that the fossil fuel industry influences the political system. One of our trustees told us to thank BP. Another trustee said that he’s concerned about climate change because he has to install a fifty thousand bulwark on his summer home in Canada.”

So, it’s slow going. Some students at the University of Denver are pushing for a similar divestment change and they may ultimately be more successful with getting the administration on board. Senior John Sydel [SY-dell] is part of that movement and described what happened when a group of students approached their Chancellor for help.

“Chancellor Coombe came out and talked to us, and after we gave him the ten minute spiel, he said look, I’m a scientist. I’m a part of the 97% that believe climate change is real and it’s a problem. So you have my support, and when you go and present in front of the board of trustees, you will have the chancellors support going into it.” 

And the trustees meeting was last month. Sydell said it went positively and students are now waiting for a final decision in January.

Whether selling off investments hurts the fossil fuel market is up for debate. Ted Roosevelt, great grandson of the legendary president of the same name, is a financial expert. He says he wasn’t convinced at first either.

“When I first heard about it, I thought this is not going to have much of a financial impact, because my first reaction is that the markets are very large, the institutional investors are very large,  and getting them to move, that’s going to be an uphill fight.”

Roosevelt said that after learning more about the bigger picture he decided to get involved. That macro level, as he described it, shows a debate about the role of fossil fuels in the near future-- and possibly to steer the those industries away from what he called “massive amounts of misinformation about climate change.” He also decided he wanted to be a part of holding those companies to the effects of fossil fuels... and global warming. Again, Ted Roosevelt.

“In some ways this reminds me of the movement early in the 60’s, which I was tangentially involved, the movement against the war in Vietnam. And it was the students  who perceived far earlier than most people that this war made no sense.

AREday will hold more divestment discussions before the event ends today, Wednesday August 13th.