Slog tipper and former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says a group of students at Seattle University are rallying against their college's refusal to divest from fossil fuels today, and you should pay attention. Months of talks between student group Sustainable Student Action and SU's chief financial officer Connie Kanter have apparently gone nowhere. Students had asked that the university's $185 million endowment be divested from major corporations whose business is based on the extraction of hydrocarbons, including Arch Coal, BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Duke Energy, Exxon Mobil, Patriot Coal, and Royal Dutch Shell. But in a February 21 letter (PDF), Kanter dismissed the notion that divesting the university's endowment from fossil fuels would do any good:
Using endowment funds entrusted to us by donors for a purpose other than their original intent is an extraordinary step. As some participants in SSA's recent forum noted, divestment from fossil fuels will neither impact the finances nor change the behavior of affected companies. We believe there are more effective ways to address climate change. For these reasons, we are not prepared to move forward on a feasibility study of divestment from fossil fuel companies.
Harvard University, which has largest college endowment in the country and is under pressure from nearly 100 of its own professors calling for divestment, makes a similar argument.
So does divestment actually work, and could it help stop climate change? South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu thinks so. And according to Eric Hendey, writing for Harvard's own Institute of Politics, "The evidence from South Africa suggests that divestment, while ineffective in a financial sense, can have an impact by shaping public discourse. If universities across the country divested from fossil fuels, this would again be the case."