Wesleyan Student Assembly


Resolution 5.35: Fossil Fuel Divestment

Resolution 5.35: Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution
Sponsors: Angus McLean ‘16 (Principal), Scott Elias ‘14, Zach Wulderk ‘15, Kate Cullen ‘16, Aidan Martinez ‘17, Ben Marvin-Vanderryn ‘17

Citing President Roth’s inaugural address, in which he stated,

“Respect for difference, a concern for the disadvantaged, an activism that searches for justice, an experimental culture that produces aesthetic and scientific innovation…these are the enduring qualities of the Wesleyan education and the Wesleyan community. As other institutions focus on maintaining the status quo and avoiding risk, we can be proud of the qualities of mind and heart that are enhanced by the education we offer…We must sustain and cultivate these qualities. We must do so not just by what we teach on campus, but by how we behave as an institution. Wesleyan should not pretend to be able to cure the ills of the world, but we must be a responsible institutional citizen – locally, globally, and nationally.[1] (emphasis added)

Applauding Wesleyan’s efforts at responsible institutional citizenship by fighting the wealth gap through affirmative action, financial aid packages, and a wealth of opportunities it provides for its students,

Further applauding Wesleyan’s recent efforts at responsible institutional citizenship by fighting climate change through fully endowing the College of the Environment, creating the Green Fund, and signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment,[2]

Positing that Wesleyan’s successes in fighting economic inequality and climate change risk negation by the impact of its financial decisions,

Positing further the irony that much of the research and learning at Wesleyan is directed towards fighting the very systems that Wesleyan supports with its endowment,

Asserting the climate crisis is the defining issue of current and future generations, given the serious and imminent threat it poses to the Wesleyan community and planet as a whole,

Highlighting that much of Wesleyan’s community members’ research, learning, lobbying, and other work are directed towards fighting the adverse effects of the fossil fuels industries, which are supported by holdings in the Wesleyan endowment,

Noting that over 350 members of the Wesleyan community, including students, groups, and alumni, have advocated for fossil fuel divestment, while nearly two-thirds of surveyed students agree that divestment is the right course of action,[3],[4]

Concerned that Wesleyan’s Climate Action Plans and other climate goals do not include divestment from fossil fuels,

Citing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report’s confirmation of human beings as responsible for climate change and of irreversible and catastrophic damage to the planet as inevitable unless steps are taken to avoid surpassing an established limit of atmospheric greenhouse gases,[5]

Concerned that the effects of global climate change disproportionately burden minority and low-income individuals,

Concerned that the poverty rate is substantially higher in the areas surrounding coal-fired power plants than the poverty rate of the US population as a whole,[6]

Concerned that climate change will only further widen divides between rich and poor across the globe,

Considering that the burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to anthropogenic climate change,5

Noting that Wesleyan’s financial holdings in fossil fuel industries give it direct responsibility for physical and financial damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and consumption,

Noting further that voluntarily possessing financial stocks and holdings displays implicit support of an industry,

Acknowledging current industry stability and high annual returns as strong incentives for maintaining holdings in fossil fuels,

Asserting that the future success of the fossil fuel industry is uncertain due to  the possibility of an emerging carbon bubble[7],

Maintaining that many socially conscious indices, including the FTSE KLD 400 Social Index, have consistently outperformed major indices such as the S&P 500[8],

Citing investment firm the Aperio Group’s statement that coal divestment is possible with “virtually no risk penalty”,[9]

Noting, nonetheless, precedent for the healthy maintenance of a university endowment that has divested itself of holdings in fossil fuel companies,[10]

Applauding Wesleyan’s established precedent of seeking to avoid support of globally detrimental practices in the form of similar divestment movements, such from South African companies during Apartheid and weapons contractors in the Iraq War,

Citing further precedent in which President Roth ensured that the Wesleyan Investment Office did not partner with any investment manager with holdings in tobacco,

Fully endorsing the spirit and environmental activism behind efforts toward full divestment,

Advocating for Wesleyan University’s continued position at the forefront of environmentally-friendly, socially conscious, and sustainable policies,

Recognizing the Committee for Investor Responsibility (CIR) as the appropriate institutional body for advising the Investment Office about socially responsible investment,

Positing that the CIR is hindered in its ability to make a complete analysis of the financial outcome or of the overall implications of divestment due to a lack of transparency with respect to the Endowment,

Positing that the efficacy of the CIR as a whole is severely limited by a lack of transparency and regard from the Investment Office, despite the charter granted the CIR by the Board of Trustees,

Acknowledging the uncertain stance of the CIR about the viability of divestment as expressed in their 2013 Divestment Report,

Noting the responsibility of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, as an elected body of representatives, to express its stance on topics on which a large subset of students disagree with the decisions of other decision-making bodies,

Therefore, be it resolved that the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA),

1. Urges President Roth, the Wesleyan Finance Office, and the Board of Trustees to direct the Wesleyan Investment Office to stop any new investments in fossil fuel companies;

2. Requests that the Investment Office be instructed to immediately begin work with the Committee for Investor Responsibility to create a plan for careful fossil fuel divestment from the Wesleyan Endowment, such that within a timely and responsible manner none of its directly-held or commingled assets include holdings in fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds as found on the Carbon Tracker list;

3. Requests that the Wesleyan Investment Office release to the Committee for Investor Responsibility for dissemination to the Wesleyan community quarterly updates, both detailing progress made towards full divestment and providing information on the holdings of the endowment pool and of index funds within the General Endowment Pool;

4. Urges President Roth to add divestment from fossil fuels into Wesleyan’s climate goals;

5. Requests that should any of the aforementioned proposals be rejected, the Wesleyan Finance Office or Investment Office provide the WSA a rationale to be made public to the Wesleyan Community at large;

6. Resolves to remain actively seized of the matter.

[Introduced 6 October 2013 / Adopted 27 October 2013]

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