Just over a month ago, the undergraduates voted whether Penn should divest from fossil fuels, and an overwhelming 87.8 percent of participants voted yes. After this amazing success, it is only natural to wonder what comes next in terms of Penn actually divesting from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, it does not mean that Penn will automatically divest, and the process is slower than optimal. Even so, we are in it for the long haul and are taking the next steps in order to see full fossil fuel divestment come to fruition.
While the referendum proved undergraduate student support, we plan to continue building support among the Penn community for the adoption of divestment as University policy. Such a decision will not be handed down easily, and with this in mind, we are building support among faculty and alumni in addition to students to demonstrate the importance of fossil fuel divestment and its broad appeal.
Despite the influence of student, faculty and alumni support, we know that in the end, the decision to divest is in the hands of the Board of Trustees. Naturally, the next logical step in attaining divestment is contacting the administration in order to begin the conversation and process regarding divestment. While the success of the referendum requires the Undergraduate Assembly to formally suggest fossil fuel divestment on behalf of the undergraduates, we know that the administration is busy and might not make time to take care of the issue. Yet as an institution that is known for caring about climate change and sustainability, we are confident in the fact that the administration will listen to our case and assist us in our cause.
The pressure on institutions to divest from fossil fuels is building as an increasing number of distinguished organizations and figures have declared their support. Just over two weeks ago, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change stated its support for divestment because “it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue.” The UNFCCC joins the ranks of public figures Jon Huntsman Jr., Natalie Portman and President Barack Obama that have made public statements in support of divestment over the last several years. The number of institutions committing to divesting has also been rising; with universities including Stanford, the University of Maine system and Syracuse University all making commitments, as well as philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Additionally, financial investment advisors have taken large strides in making divestment easier. For example, institutional advisor Cambridge Associates, which advises 82 percent of university endowment funds, agreed to offer fossil free options to investors in November.
We are aware that the standards for what warrants divestment are high; however, we feel that we have a strong case. We have broad student support, proven by the success of the referendum. We are aware though that this alone does not mean our proposal is within the University’s rules that state only extreme circumstances warrant divestment. We think, however, that fossil fuel corporations’ culpability in causing climate change means that divestment is absolutely warranted by reason as well as popularity. Recent support from reputable institutions and individuals as those listed above provide us with certainty that our requests of the University are reasonable.
With divestment comes reinvestment. In our opinion, the natural reinvestment opportunity is renewables. We know that more research needed in order for the world to fully transition towards clean energy. But this is exactly why we need divestment. Penn’s reinvestment into green technology will help facilitate this transition through Penn’s monetary and moral support.
Even so, clean energy is already demonstrating viability. For example, Costa Rica’s electricity generation has remained fossil free since the beginning of the year, generating all their energy cleanly. Munich, Germany, has set a target of having 100 percent fossil free electricity generation by 2025, and it is well on their way towards achieving that goal. We strongly believe that as a leader in sustainability initiatives, Penn is ready to show their support for a stable climate and just future through the divestment of fossil fuels and the reinvestment into clean energy.
RITA WEGNER and PETER THACHER are a College freshman and sophomore, studying environmental studies and urban studies respectively. Her email address is email@example.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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