Climate panel talks University divestment campaigns

<p>The fossil fuel industry has stopped being profitable so the moral issue and financial issue align, said Tina Weishaus, a member of the steering committee for 350NJ.&nbsp;</p>

The fossil fuel industry has stopped being profitable so the moral issue and financial issue align, said Tina Weishaus, a member of the steering committee for 350NJ. 


The Central Jersey Climate Coalition (CJCC) hosted a Divestment and Resistance panel last Thursday, where coalition speakers and four panelists discussed divestment as a tactic for their causes.

Divestment can be referred to as an investment boycott, said David Hughes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and treasurer of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT).

“Right now Rutgers currently has around 8 to 10% of the entire endowment invested in fossil fuels, which compromises about $80 to $100 million invested in fossil fuels,” said James Boyle, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and CJCC communications coordinator.

The endowment is made of large donations that are invested to make more money for building projects and scholarships, Boyle said.

Divestment as a strategy can be traced back to the time of the South African Apartheid, where there was a Rutgers coalition for the University’s total divestment in the country, said Emily Cheng, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior.

Rutgers eventually completed a total divestment of approximately $6.4 million from 10 companies, Cheng said. The New Jersey Senate also signed a bill into law that removes $2 billion of pension fund investments from companies associated with South Africa.

“What it did was it so damaged the reputation of South Africa that it eventually brought on sanctions from European countries and sanctions from the United States government,” Hughes said. “F. W. de Klerk, the prime minister (of South Africa at the time), just kind of threw in the towel and caved. And that is actually a stunning example of the success of an investment boycott.”

The fossil fuel industry has stopped being profitable so the moral issue and financial issue align, said Tina Weishaus, a member of the steering committee for 350NJ. 

“You really have a situation where it’s no longer financially in the interest of these portfolios to continue to invest,” Weishaus said.

The issue of investing in private prisons also came up at the event. 

“Rutgers currently has about 10 to 15% of its endowment invested in Vanguard, so the money that is currently in the endowment is, through different mechanisms that capital operates in, it is going to private prisons,” Boyle said.

Sherif Ibrahim, Rutgers alumnus and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organizer, said that CoreCivic, a private prison company, does not always give you advanced notice of your court hearing, notify your lawyer and will make you sign incorrect documents because it knows you do not understand it.

“Prison operates not only to make billions of dollars for these companies, it operates to quell the will of the people all over the world,” Ibrahim said. 

Climate change hits frontline communities the hardest, Weishaus said. The conflicts in Syria started with a drought, and Sudan had an ethnic conflict because of a drought in the north.

There is little fresh water. We are running out because the glaciers, which hold fresh water, are melting so fast, Weishaus said.

“We have to move so fast because it was supposed to be 10 years ago and 10 years before that and in the 1970s when ExxonMobil knew that this was going to happen, so now we have no time left,” Weishaus said. “There’s an inevitability to the decline of the fossil fuel sector, so that you know that it's just that we are trying to move it faster and have more political impact through one tactic, which is a divestment campaign.”

The University of California divested a few weeks ago, which totaled $80 billion dollars of fossil fuel investments it immediately divested, Boyle said.

“Rutgers is an institution of knowledge. With the help of the administration, the faculty has produced enormous amounts of science and other forms of scholarship about climate change and so have many other universities, and they all have a duty to act accordingly,” Hughes said.

What the coalition is trying to do with the different divestment campaigns is democratize the capital process, said Ahan Sikri, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and CJCC organizer. 

“These same settler colonization projects that want to uproot indigenous people all operate in the same way we can see the patterns it’s a matter of us putting together a toolkit of tactics and strategy to then confront them. Divestment is only one but it works and that’s why we need to center it,” Ibrahim said.


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