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Penn’s divestment movement reaches back to 2014, where students protested against the University’s investment policies.

Credit: Garett Nelson

As Penn’s ad hoc committee on divestment from fossil fuels begins to deliberate this month, Penn students took the opportunity to voice their opinions on the issue as well.

In a discussion on Wednesday led by the Penn Sustainability Review, students broke down the issues of fossil fuel divestment and discussed the morality of investing the University’s endowment in fossil fuels.

“To not divest is to actively undermine our campus sustainability,” Wharton and Engineering junior Thomas Lee said.

Lee, a member of Fossil Free Penn, said companies that contribute to fossil fuel emissions are committing a moral evil and that Penn is too by investing in them.

Last year, 88 percent of Penn undergraduates voted in favor of a referendum to divest from fossil fuels. Thirty-three percent of undergraduate students voted in total, with 87.8 percent favoring divestment.

Fossil Free Penn launched the referendum and called for Penn to stop new investments in the fossil fuel industry, remove holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and reinvest a portion of the funds into clean energy assets. Members of Fossil Free Penn used a variety of metrics to estimate that four percent of Penn’s $9.6 billion endowment is currently invested in fossil fuel companies.

Wharton MBA student and Wharton Graduate Energy Club President William Harvey said divesting from companies would limit Penn’s ability to influence them to transition to more renewable forms of energy.

“Instead of divesting from fossil fuel, we should invest in cleaner energy research,” Harvey said.

Wharton MBA student Aroon Vijaykar said investing in fossil fuels contradicts Penn’s Climate Action Plan 2.0.

“Divestment is about aligning our incentives towards a brighter future,” he said.

Last week Penn appointed members to the Ad Hoc Committee on Divestment, one of many steps toward the proposal reaching the Board of Trustees. Their recommendations will become public later this year.

The debate was hosted by the Penn Sustainability Review and co-sponsored by a number of groups, including The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Engineering senior and Penn Sustainability Review Editor-in-Chief Sasha Klebnikov said the debate was designed to move away from established speaker events into a more active discussion. By bringing students from both sides of the argument to discuss the most logical path going forward, the debate allowed students to hear from both perspectives.

“It is important to get the dialogue going, and PSR offers a venue for that,” College senior and Penn Sustainability Review Managing Editor Tatiana Brunvall said.

Despite student opinions one way or the other, the ultimate decision is up to the Board of Trustees, which chose not to divest from tobacco two years ago.

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