- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2015

Student activists were lukewarm on Georgetown University’s resolution Thursday to divest its $1.5 billion endowment from coal, characterizing it as a symbolic move that will have little impact on the institution or the climate.

Organizers of the student group GU Fossil Free described as “morally indefensible” the decision by Georgetown’s board of directors, which is similar to Stanford University’s decision last year to cease its investments in companies whose chief purpose is coal mining.

“While a tiny step in the right direction, GU Fossil Free is greatly disappointed by this decision because we understand that Georgetown’s direct investments in all fossil fuel companies represent only about less than 2 percent of Georgetown’s entire endowment,” said a statement on the group’s Facebook page.

“Even the Board admits that this represents an ‘insubstantial portion of the University’s endowment,’” said the statement. “This step is not nearly enough.”

The Georgetown board announced that it will no longer “make or continue any direct investments of endowment funds in companies whose principal business is mining coal for use in energy production,” while acknowledging that such investments are “insubstantial.”

In its resolution, the board pointed to its duty to “steward the university’s endowment carefully,” the same rationale used by dozens of other universities over the last two years when rejecting fossil-fuel divestment proposals, including Harvard, Yale and the University of California.

At the same time, the board reiterated its commitment to addressing “critical sustainability challenges in our local and global communities through academic research and through its own institutional operations by reducing its environmental footprint.”

“Climate change is real and poses a serious threat,” said the board’s statement. “In assessing any proposed divestment of endowment holdings, the Board must consider to what extent the divestment would help achieve the desired social goal under consideration.”

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, which supports the campus fossil-free divestment movement, was more upbeat about Georgetown’s decision.

“Oh YES! @Georgetown board votes to divest from coal. Crucial step for the leading Jesuit school!” Mr. McKibben said on Twitter.

But Georgetown students argued that the direct investments are negligible, as opposed to its holdings in funds that invest in fossil fuels.

“Today, Georgetown decided to continue investing in commingled coal, oil, and gas funds, as well as keep its direct investments in oil and gas companies,” the GU Fossil Free statement said. “This decision is morally indefensible. It relies on indiscriminate moral distinctions between coal and oil/gas companies and greatly weakens the political tactic that divestment provides.”

Matt Dempsey, spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, agreed with the students, saying that “no honest activist will consider this a victory.”

“I think what you have is a school that took a really hard look at the divestment question, and ended up concluding, like the vast majority of other institutions being solicited by activists, that divesting from oil and gas is a really bad idea,” Mr. Dempsey said.

Earlier this week, another Jesuit institution, Santa Clara University in California, rejected outright a fossil-fuel divestment proposal.

 

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