In an email sent to the NYU student body on Thursday, a Senate Financial Affairs Committee Subcommittee declined to recommend divestment from fossil-fuel-related companies. The decision came after over 130 NYU faculty members publicly called on the school to stop funding publicly traded oil, natural gas and coal companies. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Working Group, which first met in October 2014, cited reasons for their decision including financial prudence and the greater impact of “direct actions to reduce carbon emissions.” These direct actions are critically important, but funding fossil fuels is an inappropriate use of NYU’s endowment. While the financial realities of divestment may be complicated, NYU must begin to move away from these investments in addition to becoming more green itself.
The $139 million invested in undesirable “companies on the Carbon Underground 200” is structured in a way that means NYU would have to sever ties to 39 funds and disinvest $1.3 billion — over one third of the endowment. The Working Group determined this unfeasible, though a minority noted $700,000 of this money is held in NYU’s name and could be divested more easily. An effort should be made to replace all the funds that are associated with fossil fuel investments over time, but even this smaller divestment would be a positive, immediate step forward.
NYU has a moral imperative to divest from fossil fuels as New York City will be heavily affected by climate change in the coming years. JFK and La Guardia airports are particularly at risk of flooding if sea levels rise. The devastation this city endured during Hurricane Sandy gives just a small glimpse as to what is to come.
As an activism tool, student pressure on university administrations to divest has previously been effective across several political movements. In addition, over 26 major universities from around the world have managed to pull funding for fossil-fuel related companies. The New School approved a motion to divest $220 million from dirty energy companies in January of and committed to investing a significant part of their endowment in renewable energy. Other large universities, including Stanford and the University of Glasgow, have demonstrated that a dramatic change in investments is possible.
Divestment from fossil fuels is an investment in the future. Even though NYU’s current investment structure does make it unfeasible to immediately divest from all fossil-fuel related funds, a long-term plan to reduce these investment should be established. A vote on the current divestment proposal is expected at the next University Senate meeting on April 30 — it is imperative that the Senate makes the right decision, despite the Working Group’s recommendation. Students who wish to get involved are encouraged to sign NYU Divest’s online petition, and to email [email protected] for information on weekly meetings.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 30 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]