Columbia: Divest from Fossil Fuels

To be delivered to: Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University. The following statement was sent to the Office of the President of Columbia University, Lee C. Bollinger, and also addressed to the members of the Board of Trustees on February 7, 2013. It was sent by both e-mail and guaranteed mail. This text represents the beliefs and intentions of Columbia Divest, and it has been circulated amongst the student body as a petition since Monday, February 11.

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We call upon Columbia University to divest our endowments from the fossil fuel industry. The devastating effects of climate change, like Hurricane Sandy, already are a reality in New York City and in the global community. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry’s business model inherently entails the destruction of the environment. Columbia must join hundreds of other universities in the growing movement for climate justice. Divestment is central to the work needed to guarantee a sustainable future.

The 20th century saw a 0.8°C increase in global temperatures, and the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference set a limit of 2ºC as the maximum safe increase. The World Bank predicts that we are on course for a 4ºC global temperature increase in this century, double that limit. This trend could cause “unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services” (World Bank). Tremendous storms like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy have already devastated the Northeast, wreaking havoc on Columbia’s home.
Action must be taken to prevent what the World Bank predicts could “roll back decades of sustainable development.” Scientists agree that we can only emit 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere to remain below 2ºC of warming. However, the fossil fuel industry by mid-century is planning to burn enough coal, oil, and gas to emit 2,795 gigatons of carbon – nearly five times that amount. This cannot be undone and will forever change the face of our planet and life as we know it.

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger stated: “The general approach is that we will not put restrictions on investments unless there is a strong and overwhelming case that we’re assisting highly immoral and unethical activities.” The fossil fuel industry is actively contributing to the release of carbon into the atmosphere and has no foreseeable plans to halt its activity. By remaining complacent on this issue, Columbia is, in fact, “assisting highly immoral and unethical activities.” In this case, the responsible approach is divestment.

We demand that Columbia immediately freeze any new investment in the 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies currently holding the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves. We also demand that, within five years, our institutions pledge to divest from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds. Such action will place Columbia at the forefront of the dramatic change needed to combat the devastating effects of climate change. In this campaign, we join a coalition of students on hundreds of college campuses nationwide. As leading institutions of higher education, Columbia has the responsibility to pave the way toward a future free of climate chaos.

Our futures are jeopardized by environmental destruction - our future homes, our future livelihoods, and our future families. If our universities are supporting the fossil fuel industry, then they are failing us.

We, the undersigned, demand that Columbia University divest from the fossil fuel industry.

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Contact Columbia Divest for Climate Justice with any questions at columbiadivest@gmail.com or http://facebook.com/ColumbiaDivestforClimateJustice.

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