October 15, 2015

Letter: UCAN demands that Trustees consider divestment

In September, the University of California Board of Regents divested itself of $200 million worth of investments in coal and oil sands. We want our university to do the same. Since 2012, the University of Chicago Climate Action Network has been advocating for the university to divest from fossil fuels—more specifically, to sell all direct and indirect investments in the 200 companies that own the largest coal, oil, and gas reserves because climate change is an immense problem facing human life around the world.

Last Friday, The Maroon published an article (“Zimmer says University Unlikely to divest from fossil fuels” [10/09/15]) about fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the country, highlighting our group and describing comments made by University President Robert J. Zimmer about divestment. We’re here to remind the UChicago community why we believe our university needs to stop funding climate change.

As a strategy, the logic of divestment is simple. Climate change is a scientifically proven threat to human welfare and is perpetuated by the energy production of fossil fuel companies. UChicago funds these companies through its investments, profiting from and furthering the destruction of the climate. The strategy of divestment aims to socially stigmatize the fossil fuel industry. As a coalition of higher education institutions and other wealthy bodies draw attention to the destructive effect these companies have on our planet, legislative bodies will respond by enacting legislation to restrict the actions of these fossil fuel companies and empower the clean energy industry.

The University’s own document, the 1967 Kalven Report, states that “in the exceptional instance, these corporate activities of the university may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.” We argue that profiting from companies that facilitate the destruction of our planet absolutely violates “paramount social values.” Climate change is one of the most monumental problems that humanity has ever faced, and how we aim to ameliorate this crisis will define who we are. Our group, along with 70 percent of the student body and countless world leaders and institutions, believe that UChicago must divest.

Last June, in an interview with The Maroon, President Zimmer suggested that trustees will not make decisions based on the positions of specific groups. However, the UChicago fossil fuel divestment campaign has the support of the majority of the student body and an increasing number of faculty members. We believe that, based on the severity of the threat posed by climate change and the widespread support for our cause, President Zimmer’s assertion that we don’t deserve the attention of the Board of Trustees is misguided.

Simply stated, our campaign is ready to discuss the issue. However, the many barriers erected to prevent students from contacting trustees—from the inaccessibility of trustees’ contact information to refusals to allow students to present their ideas at the Board meetings—prevent open discourse. We ask to meet with the Board of Trustees, or at least a portion of it, to present the case for fossil fuel divestment. The threat posed by climate change is catastrophic and unmatched, and a large portion of the UChicago community stands with us when we say the University must divest from fossil fuels.

Nadia Perl (‘18), Will Pol (‘18), and Sam Zacher (‘16) on behalf of the UChicago Climate Action Network

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