Food for thought from ECO on ACSRI survey

You may have seen a recent e-mail from President Bollinger announcing a new set of Columbia University Sustainability Principles. The e-mail also included a link to a (short!) survey asking for student feedback on the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) proposal for divestment/non-investment in companies holding tar sands oil reserves. ECO has prepared a suggested response for those who are interested. The survey can be accessed here. Please take a few minutes to complete this before October 7th.
Key points in response to the ACSRI Divestment Survey. Suggested by the SIPA Environmental Coalition to its members and other interested individuals. Numbers correspond to the questions in the survey.
  1. ECO does not have a position on exactly how these activities should be prioritized as they are all important (see #2 below), and we suggest that students/faculty/staff select whatever they think is most important. However, we would suggest that both divestment options and reducing the university’s carbon footprint be in the top 3.
  2. We applaud the University for taking steps towards sustainability, and for including the University community in the process. We have 3 points:
    1. We believe that ranking these actions 1 through 6 creates a set of false choices. There is no reason that the University cannot take responsible steps to both improve its own emissions profile and the impact of its investment simultaneously. Similarly, increasing recycling can be regarded as one strategy to support reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These actions are all essential if the university is going to follow its own sustainability principles of “incorporating sustainability into every aspect of campus life.” While we recognize that any sustainability plan requires some phased implementation, we hope that the administration does not interpret any of these actions as being anything less than urgent.
    2. The ACSRI tar sands divestment proposal is a good first step, but does not go far enough. We are concerned that the existing proposal leaves too much room for companies to be exempted from divestment based on token activities such as the referenced “abatement or recapture research,” which is too often a form of greenwashing rather than a genuine good faith effort at sustainable behavior. Both tar sands extraction and coal combustion are fundamentally at odds with strong action on climate change and exceptions should not be carved out in these sectors.
    3. On the broader issue of divestment, we continue to believe that the University is too timid. A stronger proposal would also consider major fossil fuel companies in the The Carbon Underground 200TM list, and at a bare minimum should include coal companies. Coal, which accounts for 46% of the world’s CO2 emissions, despite composing 29% of the world’s primary energy supply, has surpassed oil as the largest source of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (IEA).
    3. We also believe that the survey does not provide sufficient information on the relative costs and benefits to the University and the planet of the various actions. Particularly, more transparency about the University’s endowment would be helpful. To evaluate divestment proposals with any degree of rigor would require more information on the University’s holdings in tar sands, coal, other fossil fuels, and the energy sector broadly. At the same time, this request to provide further information should NOT be used as an excuse to further delay common sense actions.

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