Most every college or university endowment needs growth to insure that money is available for future academic needs (buildings, equipment, teachers, expanded curricula, etc.). For this reason, nearly every such institution of higher learning maintains a diverse investment portfolio. And obviously, if one hopes for this portfolio to grow in value, then high-valued (high yield) stocks are very attractive investments. This has traditionally included purchasing stock in oil and natural gas companies which are perennial high-performers.
They are also the largest emitters of CO2. And, many such companies fund climate change denialist “think tanks” and websites, using questionable and discredited “science”.
Questions of Integrity and Responsibility
So then, how can one justify investing in such companies if one is concerned about human-caused climate change? Further, do our institutions of higher education have a moral and intellectual responsibility in regards to educating future generations that will bear the brunt of human-caused climate change?
Well, the answer to those questions have been provided — at least in one case, so far — by one small college in the great state of Maine.
On the same day that climate change awareness group 350.org launched its ‘Do the math’ national tour (Nov. 7), Unity College (located in Unity, Waldo County, Maine)* announced that its board of trustees had decided to divest all of its financial holdings in fossil fuel companies…making it the first in the nation to do so.
And, in doing so, Unity College has taken a tough stand on what is the global issue of the 21st century, one that may cost the college in the short term, but may also benefit its students and fellow academic institutions (by principled example) in the medium to long-term.
We can only hope that this decision is imitated and spurs on a national movement in academia…and beyond.
* In 2007 Unity College — which bills itself as ‘America’s Environmental College’ — was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges. In 2010 it was named to the Princeton Review list of the eighteen leading “green” colleges, having received the highest possible rating
Top photo: (description) Led by students at Unity College in Maine, over 500 Common Ground Fairgoers raise local organic pumpkins in a massive 350 to celebrate local agriculture solutions to climate change. Photo by Megan Mallory.