College holds “Sustainable Choices” panel to discuss divestment: Board of Trustees to make final decision on divestment later this week

By EMILY WILLIAMS ’16

Staff Writer

Professor Alden Griffith gives a presentation on the Realities and Myths of Climate Change by Pamela Wang '17 Staff Photographer 

Professor Alden Griffith gives a presentation on the Realities and Myths of Climate Change
by Pamela Wang ’17
Staff Photographer

The Environmental and Sustainability Advisory Committee last week hosted a panel discussion, “Sustainable Choices: Divestment, Reinvestment, Climate, and Wellesley’s Future,” as one of several “Sustainable Choices” events. The week’s other events included a tour of Alumnae Hall, a lecture on myths surrounding climate change science and a tour of the Wellesley Power Plant.

These events took place during the first week of classes to precede the decision the Board of Trustees will make this week in response to Fossil Free Wellesley (FFW).

Last year, FFW called for the College to divest all directly held stocks of the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. FFW presented its proposal in the fall to the Board of Trustees, which will meet this week to decide on whether or not to divest. While the Board will meet later this week, its decision may not immediately be made public.

President Bottomly and the Board of Trustees asked the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee to create a forum within the community to discuss the question of divestment, along with other environmental concerns. The committee coordinated the panel discussion to provide this forum.

“[FFW’s] request merited involvement and discussion and engagement of the entire College community,” said Jay Turner, environmental studies professor and chair of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee.

The panel consisted of Meredith Wade ’17, a student representative of FFW; Hahrie Han, associate professor of political science; Erich Hatala Matthes, assistant professor of philosophy; Debby Kuenstner, chief investment officer; and Rob Pratt, chairman and CEO of GreenerU, a college sustainability consultant firm. Nearly 90 students attended the event.

“We tried to organize the event so that a range of views on climate change, divestment and sustainability were represented,” Turner said.

At the College administration’s request, the panel provided a discussion-based environment rather than a debate.

“They specifically thought the students would really value having a discussion that was informative instead of having a debate where people were squaring off and pushing for one side or the other,” Turner said.

Topics the panelists discussed included the similarities and differences between fossil fuel divestment and previous divestment initiatives involving South Africa, tobacco and firearms. Panelists also discussed the potential monetary repercussions of fossil fuel divestment.

“If all the endowments in the United States divest in fossil fuel, it will not impact the economics of these big oil companies,” Kuenstner said. Divestment will most likely not directly affect the large fossil fuel companies because college endowment investments make up such a small percentage of their total investors.

The panelists also discussed what the College’s goals should be regarding divestment.

“[People] tend to assume that the only moral reason to divest would be if there would be some positive consequence to doing so … one thing I think we should be thinking of in the context of these arguments is whether or not we should assume that kind of consequentialism,” Matthes said.

Turner believes the event succeeded in informing the student body about divestment and climate change issues. A survey given both at the beginning and end of the panel showed that students felt more informed about these matters after attending.

FFW anticipates a negative response from the Board of Trustees based on the fact that the majority of Wellesley’s peer institutions decided not to divest.

“We’re hoping to integrate more specific causes beyond divestment, and address ways we can use our time and effort,” Wade said of FFW’s plans if Wellesley forgoes divestment.

“The issue of climate change is one that an institution like Wellesley needs to engage with in a thoughtful and systematic way. That takes careful thought and sustained action, and that is going to continue into the future regardless [of the Board’s decision],” Turner said.

The discussion on the College’s role in sustainability and climate change will continue in the coming weeks after the Board of Trustees convenes tomorrow.

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