From the Daily: Investing in the environment

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 23, 2014

In a presentation to the University’s Board of Regents Thursday, the Law Students for Responsible Divestment from Fossil Fuels urged the regents to reduce the amount of the University’s endowment that’s invested in the fossil fuel industry. Specifically, LSRD is calling for a divestment from “coal and oil equity and debt instruments,” which it estimates represent one percent of the University’s total endowment. The organization claims that the University’s investments in the fossil fuel industry are antithetical to its stated core value of sustainability. Since fossil fuels are one of the primary causes climate change, the industry shouldn’t be supported by the University’s investments. LSRD has campaigned for divestment from fossil fuels in the past without action from the University. Since the group has proposed a new, viable plan for divestment, the University should seriously consider the plan in order to bring its endowment investments more in line with its core values.

According to the Divest and Invest Campaign, about $1.04 billion of the $9.16 billion University endowment was categorized as fossil fuel investments in June 2012. LSRD’s proposal indicates that divesting only from coal and oil equities wouldn’t have any noticeable effect on the endowment’s volatility. The plan provides a gradual and reasonable way for the University to reduce its financial support of an environmentally detrimental industry.

The University’s mission statement states that the school is dedicated to sustainability. In accordance with this statement, University President Mary Sue Coleman began an initiative in September 2011 for the investment of $14 million in environmental sustainability projects, which has materialized in the form of new hybrid cars, buses and solar panel fields. The Program in the Environment major, sustainability minor and the Planet Blue campaign further not just the University’s commitment to sustainable practices, but emphasizes the importance of environmental responsibility to students as well. Continued investment in fossil fuels is in direct conflict with this mission statement as well as the academic and social work that many University students are committed to.

In the past, the University has divested from industries deemed socially irresponsible and in conflict with its core values. The University divested from the tobacco industry in 2000 and South African firms during the country’s apartheid era. The divestment from tobacco represented less than 0.8 percent of the endowment at the time, according to LSRD, making the current proposed divestment similar in scope. Just as apartheid and tobacco meet the qualifications for divestment consideration, today’s current issue of climate change also warrants appropriate action by the regents. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our generation. The University has been at the forefront of promoting environmental responsibility in many respects, but its endowment investments have not followed this trend. It’s time for the regents to seriously consider the proposal put forth by LSRD and divest from fossil fuels.