The Argument for Divestment Continued

By Nick L’Heuraux

Undoubtedly, the climate situation around the world has worsened significantly since the Rollins Coalition for Sustainable Investment last published an article for The Independent. Since December, global temperature records have been broken, an alarming number of species have gone extinct, and the lives of people around the world have been devastated. This year is shaping up to be the hottest on record; record temperatures seem to be shattered every day with an average increase of more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit globally since the year 1999. Some of our most precious ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef have suffered almost complete destruction, and people have been displaced from their homes from conflicts ignited by water shortage.

During the time that all of these events transpired and continued to escalate, the Rollins Coalition for Sustainable Investment, or RCSI, has been imploring the Board of Trustees to consider removing a portion of our school’s endowment of more than $360 million in fossil fuels, an industry that is continuing to exacerbate the global situation. RCSI is the student-led, on- campus divestment campaign with three goals:

1. Freeze any new investments in fossil fuels.

2. Divest from fossil fuels within 2-4 years.

3. Reinvest at least one percent of those investments in socially responsible funds, or SRIs.

These goals have been circulated throughout the student body in the form of a petition, which over 500 individuals have signed. Our three goals have been set before the Student Government Association and faculty in the form of a resolution, which both have endorsed.

Since the group was founded last year, RCSI and Rollins College as a whole have made notable progress. The Board of Trustees have been made aware of the campus’ desire to distance itself financially from the fossil fuel industry. As the section of the Board that manages the investment of the endowment, the Investment Committee intended to discuss the possibility of divestment and the adoption of the school’s resolution in their meeting last October. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication between the Investment Committee and the school’s investing consultant group Prime Buchholz, divestment was not conclusively resolved. In the same meeting, however, the committee rejected a $4 million dollar fossil fuel investment that was proposed by Prime Buchholz and has dedicated concerted effort to begin the exploration of more sustainable and socially responsible investments for the future.

As a part of this effort, RCSI will be in attendance at the Investment Committee’s next quarterly meeting in January to represent the voices of those in the Rollins College community who expect the Board to invest the endowment within the ethical parameters of the mission statement. Although the Board has not fully accepted RCSI’s resolution, they certainly have started to take the actions of RCSI and those for whom they speak seriously. What still remains unclear is how the Investment Committee considers our mission statement relevant to RCSI’s investments.

Although divestment certainly has its financial merits, the strongest argument for divestment lies in the school’s mission statement:

Rollins College educates students for global citizenship and responsible leadership, empowering graduates to pursue meaningful lives and productive careers. We are committed to the liberal arts ethos and guided by its values and ideals. Our guiding principles are excellence, innovation, and community.

…We are dedicated to scholarship, academic achievement, creative accomplishment, cultural enrichment, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship.

As the mission statement currently stands, any current and future investments in the socially and environmentally devastating fossil fuel extraction industry are antithetical to Rollins College.

Global citizenship, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship are ideals that have direct links to the implications of climate change. (For an overview of the divestment debate, see “The Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment: Global Citizenship and Environmental Stewardship in the Age of Greed” by Scott Novak in the December 2015 edition of The Independent or visit DivestRollins.edu.) As the mission statement currently stands, any current and future investments in the socially and environmentally devastating fossil fuel extraction industry are antithetical to Rollins College. Yet, the Board and the Investment Committee in particular have been able to evade adopting the common sense resolution by hiding behind strictly financial or bureaucratic arguments that completely disregard the moral prerogative of the mission statement.

The counter arguments  are poignant.  The bylaws of the Board indicate there is a strict separation between the school and the Investment Committee. According to the bylaws of Rollins College as of 2014, the Investment Committee is charged with presumably autonomous authority over “the conduct of investment and endowment activities.” Thankfully, these bylaws protect the school’s reputably large endowment from risky and speculative actions on part of administration, faculty, or even students. Nonetheless, the bylaws  also  undermine the democratic clout of the resolution put forth by the campus, and fail to enforce any kind of ethical or moral framework for the committee to consider while investing the school’s endowment. While the rest of the school is held to the standard of the mission statement, the Investment Committee has no standard in their considerations for investments besides increasing returns. Furthermore, the Board has absolutely no structural pressure to accept the goals of the school, even if every student, faculty member, staff member, and alumni stood in solidarity behind them.

Politically, the separation of powers plays a strategic and vital role in the stability of our institution, but stability requires countless adjustments. For the integrity of our school, this is one adjustment that we must make as our world rushes toward unprecedented global trials. This is why RCSI asks the Board to consider the contents of the resolution, not just on the grounds that fossil fuel investments are continuing to become riskier, but more importantly on the grounds that burning fossil fuels endangers the lives of our current and future students. Investing in an industry that profits from the exploitation of natural resources, the destruction of vital ecosystems, the disregard of indigenous peoples’ rights, and the global discrepancies in equity negates every on-campus initiative for sustainability and social justice a million times over.

It is impossible to overlook the fact that nearly every aspect of our lives is made possible by fossil fuels. This country would likely fall into chaos if suddenly all the fossil fuel reserves ran dry. Luckily, we as global citizens can begin to change that by investing in renewable energies and the infrastructure they require to diminish our reliance of fossil fuels. Business as usual will only perpetuate the tragedy of climate change at home and abroad, but as global citizens, we are obligated to think critically about how our actions impact our neighbors. This journey begins with a single step, and hopefully this resolution can be a stepping-stone to a more sustainable and just future for Rollins and the global community. Already, over 50,000 individuals, 600 institutions, and 50 cities have committed to divestment, adding up to approximately $3.4 trillion divested.

Investing in an industry that profits from the exploitation of natural resources, the destruction of vital ecosystems, the disregard of indigenous peoples’ rights, and the global discrepancies in equity negates every on-campus initiative for sustainability and social justices a million times over.

What is most important to this movement is support from the students and the community. Divestment is a global movement because it affects every living thing on this planet. Divestment is also one of the few opportunities we as students have to make tangible changes towards combating climate change. For those who have already dedicated their time and resources, thank you for supporting and being a part of our campaign thus far. We plan to capitalize on the momentum that we have gained from your efforts. RCSI is not going anywhere, and we hope for your continued support. For those who are looking for ways to get involved, keep an eye out for events and actions sponsored by RCSI on campus, or stop by one of our weekly meetings. For more information, or if you want to add your name to the petition, visit DivestRollins.edu.