SURGE powers ahead with efforts to raise awareness about fossil fuel divestment| Oct 9, 2013
Students United for a Responsible Global Environment has continued to advocate for the University to divest any holdings in fossil fuel companies.
Since first circulating a petition in February, the student environmental group has beencollecting additional signatures, organizing related events and raising awareness among alumni, according to co-president Stephen Moch ’14. As of Oct. 8, SURGE had collected 576 signatures on its petition.
SURGE’s efforts are part of a nationwide movement to increase sustainability on college campuses, which to date has involved more than 300 institutions, including Harvard and Brown, Moch said.
SURGE has not yet approached the Resources Committee — the subsection of the Council of the Princeton University Community tasked with handling issues related to the endowment — with a request to consider its petition. Moch said the group is actively working to demonstrate “sustained campus interest” — a standard that petitions must meet in order for the Resources Committee to examine an issue involving the actions of companies in the University’s investment portfolio.
He said the group hopes the Resources Committee will consider the petition by the end of the year.
Resources Committee Chair and psychology department chair Deborah Prentice said the Resources Committee had not received any requests from SURGE or any other group regarding divestment from fossil fuels companies.
According to its petition, SURGE targets the top 200 companies deemed by Fossil Freeto be the world’s largest producers of oil, natural gas and coal. Since PRINCO, the University’s investment company, does not make the details of its specific investments public, it remains unclear whether the University invests in any of the 200 companies targeted by SURGE.
“Regarding specific investments, we do not discuss the specifics of our endowment portfolio in order to retain a competitive advantage in the financial market,” University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua told The Daily Princetonian in February.
PRINCO President Andrew Golden did not respond to requests for comment.
SURGE has organized a variety of activities to continue raising awareness about the issue of University divestment from fossil fuel companies since February, Moch said. These activities include a variety of panel discussions with alumni and local environmental groups, a student conference discussing campaigns at other institutions and Divestment 101, an event held in March and October to inform students about divestment.
The group also jointly sponsored an Oct. 2 panel on the ethical concerns surrounding endowment investment for alumni at the Princeton Club of New York in collaboration with the student group Princeton Progressives. At the panel, former PRINCO President Randall Hack ’69 argued that environmental calculations are irrelevant to University investment decisions since the goal of the University investment is to ensure it gets enough funding to support the students and the faculty.
Despite Hack’s remarks, Moch said the panel was meant to facilitate a dialogue and that the group expected members of the University community to hold a variety of views.
“Present Eisgruber, the trustees, people who run PRINCO, are very smart people,” Moch said of the views expressed at the panel. “What I’m trying to say is not that we are better than them or know what is right. We're trying to ask a question and get them to think about it and get their response.”
Harvard, Brown and a number of small liberal arts colleges have already taken concrete steps to reduce their institution’s investments in fossil fuel companies, Moch said.
Brown’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies recommended that the university divest its holdings in the nation’s 15 largest coal companies in April, The Brown Daily Herald reported.
While Harvard’s Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility decided not to divest its current holdings in fossil fuel companies after the committee considered the option earlier this year, University President Drew Faust announced in a statement to the Harvard community on Oct. 3 that the university would hire its first-ever vice president for sustainable investing at the Harvard Management Company, which manages the university’s investments.
According to SURGE co-president Isaac Lederman ’15, Princeton should emulate the example of Unity College, a small school in Maine, which was the first college to completely divest of its holdings in fossil fuel companies. After four years of discussion, the college’s Board of Trustees voted in favor of divestment in November 2012 and reported in May 2013 that it had not experienced financial losses as a result of the divestment.
“I was really excited that Princeton had taken a step in this direction,” Clare Gallagher ’14, a student who signed SURGE’s petition, said. “I think for the movement to gain the attention it needs schools like Princeton, Harvard and other Ivy League schools with massive endowments need to at least have a divestment movement on campus.”
Beyond participating in a national movement, Gallagher said that becoming involved in SURGE’s efforts gives students the chance to effect positive change.
“Whether or not the government takes a stance in signing the Kyoto Protocol or doing something about this, we as a student [body] don’t have a say in that,” she said, explaining that she felt excited by the opportunity to contribute to an issue important not just for her generation, but also for future generations. “It's empowering for a layperson [to have] the ability to at least share some voice in this subject.”