The recent recommendation urging Columbia to divest from thermal coal, sent to the trustees by the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing last week, has been met with criticism from activists following its release.
While the activist student group Columbia Divest for Climate Justice sees the recent recommendation as a step in the right direction, it considers the recommendation to be insufficient, according to a statement released this week. CDCJ first demanded divestment from all fossil fuels in 2013, and has since signaled that it will not be satisfied with anything short of full divestment. However, two separate proposals from CDCJ calling for full divestment have been flatly rejected by ACSRI so far.
While CDCJ considers the ACSRI recommendation to be a win for its movement, the group believes that the gesture is not enough to change public perceptions of fossil fuels. CDCJ calls for a more radical response and demands divestment from all fossil fuels and reinvestment in communities suffering the effects of climate change.
Members of CDCJ declined to be interviewed for this story.
The recommendation to divest from thermal coal was driven by the fact that coal emits the most carbon of any fuel in general use and by wide consensus within the scientific community that decreased carbon emissions will be crucial to slowing the effects of global warming, according to ACSRI chair and professor of law Jeffrey Gordon.
“It won't have any direct impact on coal producers. It can't reasonably be expected to have that effect,” Gordon said. “It signals that Columbia's standing up for science, that we need to say that there is in fact serious climate change threat, that this is overwhelmingly the consensus of science.”
Makenzie Nohr, CC ’19, responded with a similar sense of ambivalence. Nohr considers divestment from coal to be an important symbolic gesture of the University’s support for clean energy.
“We are at the point where we need to decide whether we are going to just run out of these resources or if we are going to go the direction of clean energy, and I think really wealthy institutions like universities can be at the forefront of that,” Nohr said.
However, Nohr was ultimately disappointed by the recent recommendation and agreed with CDCJ that if Columbia intends to be effective in pressuring the fossil fuel industry, further divestment is necessary.
“If they are serious about saying that we support a movement towards clean energy, then they should definitely go full force with that,” Nohr said. “I think that they need to look at divesting from many fossil fuels.”
This Saturday, Barnard will release its own divestment recommendation. Barnard Divest for a Just Transition is hopeful that the decision will be favorable, according to Gabby Jackson, BC ’20, a member of the group.
Jackson hopes that Barnard’s divestment decision on Saturday will put pressure on Columbia to divest from other fossil fuels besides coal.
“Hopefully Barnard votes well, and hopefully that puts more pressure on Columbia and they can do more. This was a good first step, what they released this week,” Jackson said.