Over 1,000 Students Sign Petition Supporting Divestment

KyotoNOW! garnered over 1,000 signatures in support of the University’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry...

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Sarah Portway grad signs a petition created by student organization KyotoNOW! that calls for the University to divest from 200 companies. (Ryan Landvater / Sun Senior Photographer)
Sarah Portway grad signs a petition created by student organization KyotoNOW! that calls for the University to divest from 200 companies. (Ryan Landvater / Sun Senior Photographer)

By Christopher Byrns, via the Cornell Daily Sun, 11/25/14

KyotoNOW! — a student-run climate action organization — garnered over 1,000 signatures in support of the University’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry from its endowment as part of a photo campaign in Willard Straight Hall Monday.

The petition, according to copresident and treasurer Cole Norgaarden ’17, calls for the University to divest from 200 specific fossil fuel companies and also calls for the reinvestment of 30 percent of the funds raised from this divestment into “socially responsible enterprises.”

According to Aubree Keurajian ’15, a member of KyotoNOW!, divestment from fossil fuel companies has already received support from all four shared governance bodies on campus. Keurajian said the petition seeks to “show that there is broad based student support for [the] initiative.”

“It’s the same that has been asked all along, this is just a new way of showing that there still is this student support,” Keurajian said.

The organizers of the event claim that the University is hypocritical in that it holds investments in fossil fuel companies, while promoting sustainability at the same time. Norgaarden said the issue was one of “integrity.”

“We just don’t think that it’s right that Cornell can [promote sustainability] while also directly profiting off of extracted fossil fuels that promote climate injustice and really works against this other goal of educating students who believe in and can create a sustainable future,” Norgaarden said.

Keurajian cited how Cornell has been lauded internationally for its Climate Action Plan — which directs the Ithaca campus toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 — but said she worries that the University is “falling behind in another aspect of the same issue.”

According to Keurajian, the administration has given a tepid response to the issue but has still allowed dialogue. In spring 2013, President David Skorton said at a Student Assembly meeting that even though the University remains committed to sustainability, it would not divest a large portion of its endowment in the “immediate forseeable future.”

“[The administration’s response] has not been a hard and fast ‘no’ like Harvard has seen, but it has definitely left space open for us to push,” Keurajian said. “We have had meetings with the administration, with Chief Financial Officer [Joanne DeStefano] and other members of the administration so there is a working dialogue.”

However, Chief Investment Officer A.J. Edwards previously said in March 2013 that divestment from the fossil fuel industry may negatively impact the University’s endowment.

“If the University decided to exclude [energy sector] investments from its endowment, this decision would have a material impact on the return of the endowment and its contribution to the operating budget of the University,” he said.

Nevertheless, KyotoNOW! organizers said they hope Monday’s petition will raise awareness about the University’s ability to take action against climate change.

“We have a bold goal of full divestment from these 200 companies,” Norgaarden said. “I think we do not expect that to just happen overnight but by pushing toward this end result we are pushing people to think more boldly about the actions that the University can take.”

Any decision on the endowment would have to go through the Financial Committee of the Board of Trustees, who have not moved toward divestment, according to Keurajian. However, the organizers said they hope the petition will help make the trustees aware of student support for the issue.

“They’re trying to promote the image of the University as an institution that attracts the brightest and best young scholars so they want to portray this image of being sustainable. It’s a huge thing on campus,” Keurajian said. “So even though they are the ones with the decision making power, the student body and the rest of the University body as a whole are the ones … influencing the way they need to think about things.”

The petition’s organizers said they hope that Cornell’s influence as an institution will help carry any support for action on divestment to other college campuses.

According to Norgaarden, divestment at Cornell could “possibly create that movement on other campuses across the country.”

“If Cornell would be able to divest from fossil fuels … it would have a positive impact on other campuses that also have an interest in sustainability,” Norgaarden said.

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.