There’s a lot of nice talk these days about “green,” “clean” and “carbon-free” energy, but the truth is, fossil fuels still dominate the energy and financial sectors.
Don’t believe us? Just ask the folks over at Swarthmore College.
There was a 32-day sit-in. There was a resolution of support from faculty, and 1,100 alumni signed a petition.
But in the end, it was just too hard to get rid of fossil fuels and the lucrative investment opportunities they provide.
Protesters were hoping that fossil fuels would be taken out of the college’s endowment investments as a way to address the world’s climate change problems.
Since 2012, more than 200 institutions around the world have divested themselves of fossil fuel funds, according to Stephen O’Hanlon, a Swarthmore College sophomore.
The hope had been that Swarthmore would join those institutions.
Alas, no. And here’s why, as explained succinctly by the endowment fund’s board of managers.
“It would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace our current investment managers with one of similar quality if we were only to invest in funds that were fossil fuel-free,” the board managers stated, as reported in a Daily Times article.
According to the college’s investment guidelines, the $1.9 billion endowment is managed to yield the best long term financial results, not to pursue social objectives.
In other words, investing without fossil fuels in the equation seems to be a losing proposition…for now.
And so, the 39-member board of managers decided last week not to change their investment strategy.
Still, the protests were successful. Up to this point, the concept of institutions and large companies not relying on fossil fuels seemed pretty pie-in-the-sky, a dream of bleeding hearts and tree huggers.
Now they’ve put the idea out there for debate and in time, the business and investment community may go there, too, as alternatives to fossil fuels become cheaper and more practical.
And the protesters did move the line a little. Swarthmore College Board of Managers Chairman Gil Kemp said the college will intensify its sustainable practices. “Our efforts will cut across all aspects of college operations, including new construction, energy consumption, water usage and recycling, and also the curriculum and investment practices,” he said.
Kemp also said the board would establish a Green Fund that will allow alumni and others to contribute to an alternative fund that will not invest in fossil fuels.
Baby steps. Fossil fuels have made humanity great and have been a great investment.
But the environmental damage caused by the sustained use of fossil fuels promises diminishing returns long-term, both for investors and humanity.