Response to the Tufts Daily Editorial

Editorial note: Today, the Tufts Daily ran an editorial titled “Ethical, but not yet practical.”  A member of Tufts Divest wrote a letter to the editor, correcting some assumptions and statements in the piece. The Daily will not run this piece before the referenda vote, so we wanted to post it online for people to read. 

 

Dear Editor,

 As a longtime member of the Tufts Divest for Our Future campaign, I wanted to respond to some of the assertions made in Tuesday’s editorial, and correct some statements made that do not accurately reflect our tactics or goals.

First, I have two points in response to the statement “Tufts Divest has thus far not provided an understanding of the fact that immediate removal of investments in these companies is not plausible or provided an alternative investment strategy that would see similar returns.”

1) We are not advocating for the immediate removal of investments. Instead, we are asking that the Board gradually phase out their investments over a period of five years.

2) You are correct that we have not ourselves “provided an alternative investment strategy that would see similar returns.” This is because a number of investment firms, banks, and nonprofit organizations with the expertise to navigate the nuances of this complex issue have already done so. We encourage anyone interested in the details of minimal-risk divestment and alternative reinvestment pathways to look at the recent reports by HSBC, the Aperio Group, Impax Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, and Portfolio 21, among others. Several of these studies present models that show fossil fuel-free portfolios performing as well as or even slightly better than those invested in the industry.

Next, with regards to “past divestment campaigns have served to shape public discourse about certain issues but have been financially ineffective in the sense that divestment did not actually affect the ‘financial markets’ valuations of targeted companies” – you are again correct that divestment is unlikely to affect the share values of the 200 fossil fuel companies we are targeting, but that is not the point of this campaign.

The purpose of divestment is not to directly hurt the stock value of companies like BP and ExxonMobil, but rather to encourage the public opinion that the business model of those companies is short-sighted, dangerous, irresponsible, and morally wrong, and to create a political climate where action on climate change is more feasible as a result of this public opinion. Targeting companies through divestment has the power to create a widespread stigma that can ultimately affect much more powerful long-term change than a simple drop in share prices ever could.

 A study released on Monday by Oxford University, entitled “Stranded assets and the fossil fuel divestment campaign: what does divestment mean for the valuation of fossil fuel assets?” assesses these goals and impacts in great detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the theory of change behind divestment review this study. An excerpt: “Stigma attached to merely one small area of a large company may threaten sales across the board…The outcome of the stigmatization process, which the fossil fuel divestment campaign has now triggered, poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain.”

I would like to add that divestment from fossil fuels is an international campaign operating on 317 college campuses, in 109 cities and states, and in 9 religious institutions – it is not by any means an effort limited to Tufts. For more resources and information on divestment than I could possibly enumerate, please visit gofossilfree.org.

Speaking of shaping discourse, I have been excited to observe the conversations that have arisen on campus around this issue, and I encourage everyone who has been involved in these conversations to vote in today’s referendum before midnight tonight. I of course hope you all vote “yes,” but I am well aware that not everyone agrees with us, and I would frankly be surprised and even a little disappointed if you all did. So regardless of your position on divestment, please do vote, and I hope that you do so based on your own informed assessment of divestment, rather than on your views of some of the particular tactics of our group, or on misconceptions and assumptions such as those published in Tuesday’s editorial.

Whichever side of the issue you might stand on, I thank you all for sharing your convictions and for often challenging our own assumptions. It is at moments like this that I am most proud to be part of this smart and passionate community.

 

Sincerely,

 

Devyn Powell

A’14, International Relations & Environmental Studies

Member, Presidential Working Group Regarding Socially Responsible Investments and Climate Change

 

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