Extinction Rebellion Columbia University, a climate activist student group, will propose that the University divest from all fossil fuels in front of the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing this Wednesday.
The proposal recommends that the University sell its stocks of any company on the list of the Carbon Underground 200 and refrain from buying any such stocks in the future. If accepted by the ACSRI, the committee will recommend the proposal to the University administration. Led by student, faculty, and administrative representatives, ACSRI is a University body that represents the financial interests of multiple constituencies while managing Columbia’s endowment. If accepted by the ACSRI, the proposal will be presented to the board of trustees who will have the final say in whether Columbia divests from fossil fuels.
The proposal comes as a part of Extinction Rebellion’s larger efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and complete divestment from fossil fuels by 2025. Extinction Rebellion and other similar climate activist organizations on campus, such as Sunrise Movement at Columbia, have been mobilizing increasingly often this year, organizing demonstrations, sit-ins, and a five-day hunger strike at the end of last semester.
In the past few months, the University has taken steps to mitigate its environmental impact at the recommendation of its newly-created climate task force. For example, just last month, it announced plans to open a school dedicated to climate change research. Yet, students and faculty remain dissatisfied because they perceive these steps to be of low immediate impact. After more than a year of pressure from student groups such as Divest Barnard, Barnard made the decision to divest from companies that deny climate science, as well as companies that mine coal and tar sands, in 2017.
Similar proposals have made their way to the ACSRI in 2013, 2015, and 2017 and eventually resulted in divestment from direct thermal coal producers. If any of these proposals were to be adopted in full, Columbia would become the first Ivy League institution to divest from fossil fuels entirely. In each of these cases, however, the ACSRI and University members have been reluctant to accept the proposals, claiming that divestment could potentially have a negative impact on the endowment.
However, Extinction Rebellion representatives say that there is no evidence that a negative impact on the endowment would occur and further recommends that the endowment then reinvest in companies and industries with more sustainable practices.
For Extinction Rebellion, ACSRI is one of the only avenues that they believe could institute consequential dates through student voices.
“This is the only sort of institutional avenue for this sort of change,” said Extinction Rebellion member Abby Schroering, GSAS ’21. “We are doing this to make sure we have ticked the box of saying, ‘This is how the University wants you to recommend changes in University behavior, and if that does not work, our only option is to use other behavior.’”
Following the proposal, Sunrise Movement will stage a divestment rally on Feb. 15.