A group of Tufts’ students have joined a national campus movement to urge universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels.
The students, part of Tufts Divest for our Future, met for the first time Thursday with the Investment Committee of Tufts University’s Board of Trustees to discuss divesting.
The national campaign, spearheaded by 350.org, a climate advocacy group, began last September to ask universities to divest from oil, coal, and gas corporations that own the majority of the world’s carbon reserves. Emissions from producing energy from those reserves trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the earth.
The Board of Trustees at Unity College in Maine became the first college in the nation in November to divest its endowment from fossil fuel industries. Students at Hampshire College and Harvard are also pursuing divestment, with 72 percent of voting students at Harvard urging divestment in November, according to the college’s Undergraduate Council. Local groups such as The Better Future Project, a climate advocacy organization, are aiding in the growing movement.
A University of New Hampshire student group, meanwhile, is holding an educational forum on responsible investing Thursday, and many other New England college students are joining the movement.
Still, it's a big challenge: Fossil fuel companies are highly profitable and most endowments invest in oil giants including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell, which raked in $100 billion in profits in 2011 alone. Persuading money managers to miss out on those kinds of returns will be much harder than it was to get universities to drop their much smaller investments in South Africa to pressure that nation to end its apartheid policies.
A Tufts spokeswoman said it was not a matter of simply pulling investments from a company. Many investments are comingled and excluding any sector “would require significant restructuring and quite possibly financial disruption,” said Kim Thurler, director of public relations.
Still, Thurler said, “Tufts is hopeful that we can work with students to explore additional approaches to combating the very real problem of climate change.”
Students who met with the Board of Trustees committee said they were told that roughly 5 percent of Tufts’ endowment is invested in fossil fuels. Four students met with the trustees while more than 40 other students and community members stood outside the meeting with signs, according to the students.
“We appreciate the administration’s willingness to communicate with us and continue discussion,” said Anna Lello-Smith, a junior at Tufts who was among the group that met with the Board. “At the same time, there is very little time left to combat the climate crisis. We hope the Board understands the urgency of the problem and acts with similar urgency themselves.”
Tufts Divest for Our Future began its fossil fuel divestment campaign last September, asking the university to divest from the top 200 oil, coal, and gas corporations that possess the majority of the world’s carbon reserves. After a semester of teach-ins and workshops, over 1,100 students and 185 alumni have signed petitions in support of divestment.
The student group and the committee made plans to meet again in a few weeks.
About the green blog
Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
Doug Struck covers environmental issues from Boston.
Glenn Yoder produces Boston.com's Lifestyle pages.
Eric Bauer is site architect of Boston.com.
Bennie DiNardo is the Boston Globe's deputy managing editor/multimedia.
Dara Olmsted is a local sustainability professional focusing on green living.