#DivestEmerson calls for end to college fossil fuel investments

Courtesy of Earth Emerson

Earth Emerson launched a second attempt at convincing the college’s Board of Trustees to withdraw investments, or divest, from fossil fuel companies. The revitalized effort spurred from concern about the ongoing environmental crisis.

The campaign centers around the #DivestEmerson hashtag. Members began using the phrase for recruitment and promoting awareness through social media early February, Earth Emerson Co-President Kayla Burns said.

In an email to the Beacon, President M. Lee Pelton said he plans to forward Earth Emerson’s request to the Trustee Investment Committee for consideration.

“Divestment would mean really committing to reducing carbon emissions … leading to a greener future,” Burns said. “A lot of people don’t understand how dire the situation is.”

The Beacon previously reported the college has a $150 million endowment, a sum of financial assets donated to the college. Fund managers shift investments daily to maximize profits following approval by the Board of Trustees—a strategy called indirect investing—rather than allocating all funds to a particular company.

The college maintains no active investments in fossil fuels but invests 7 percent of the endowment in related companies indirectly. Information detailing what companies are involved remains inaccessible to the public.

According to Emerson’s 2015 tax filings and audits, the college’s investment income totaled over $4 millionabout one percent of the college’s total revenue.

“I think the college is not in the business of banking or managing stocks or business portfolios. They’re in the business of educating students,” Amy Elvidge, sustainability coordinator, said.

Elvidge teaches Energy and Sustainability, a class where students choose a topic to focus on throughout the term and manage a project to address it. Burns, a student in the class, decided to continue the work of a previous student group projectdivestment.

She acknowledges last year’s class effort, fossil fuel divestment, yielded little progress, but said she remains determined for her club’s renewal of the campaign.

“Earth Emerson wasn’t spearheading,” Burns said. “Now, we have consistent leadership and a consistent group. That’s what’s different.”

Carrie Cullen, treasurer of Earth Emerson, said she shares Burns’ optimism for the club’s initiative.

“Something that will propel us to success is knowing that this is a work in progress, and it will take baby steps,” Cullen said. “This will hopefully grow in momentum and be something that, like climate change, isn’t going to go away.”

Scientists have concluded that fossil fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect, or global warming, that results from heat trapped in the atmosphere.

A panel of 1,300 independent scientific experts concluded a more than 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, have caused the increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.

The Carbon Majors Database report states that one hundred fossil fuel producers contributed nearly one trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions—more than 70 percent of the world’s emissions since 1988.

“The time is now to pull out of fossil fuel investments,” Cullen said. “We’re in an exciting time where young people are becoming engaged in protecting our future, so I would say for the safety of our climate and our generation, to consider the ethical value of this.”

Freshman Matthew Havey joined the organization this semester, just as the campaign for divestment launched.

“As a socially-conscious person going to a socially-conscious school, it’s a pressing issue right now. Divesting is something we can tangibly do,” Havey said.

Earth Emerson argues that renewable energy would be a more ethical and equitable investment.

In 2016, wind power generated 5.5 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, the solar industry employs over 260,000 workers nationwide.

“[Renewable energy is] a market that’s growing,” Elvidge said. “What would be really nice as a foundation is to get a statement on what Emerson wants to support on their endowment and what they do not want to support, and get that to our money managers to make that a reality.”

Members staff a table in the Dining Center where they distribute pins and stickers to promote #DivestEmerson on weeknights and weekend mornings.

The items bear a sloppily crossed, black “X” with Emerson’s logo splashed in front of it. Several divestment efforts nationwide previously adopted the design as their symbol.

A petition intended for the Board of Trustees notes that Emerson’s mission statement affirms commitment to institutionalizing sustainability. The document demands the college align itself with its own policy.

Earth Emerson hopes to collect 2,000 signatures by the end of the semester and to open dialogue between the club and the Board of Trustees. The goal includes more than half of the undergraduate student population.

The petition boasts 500 signatures from both the online and their printed version—about 13 percent of the undergraduate student body, as of Wednesday.

“[The Board of Trustees] think the student body doesn’t have issues with it and they can get away with it,” Havey said. “They don’t think they have to [divest]. We’re telling them they have to.”

During Earth Emerson’s kickoff meeting for #DivestEmerson on Feb. 20, Jordan joked that members are stigmatized for being annoying—but only because they have to be.

Burns said persistence is key. Climate change remains an invisible issue, making it difficult to garner support considering the lack of provoking, visual indicators.

“By the time you’ll be able to see [visual indicators],” she said, “It’ll be too late.”

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