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The Time to Divest is Now

Divestment. So much has been written on the subject that it can get confusing as to what it really means and why it’s perhaps the number one issue debated on college campuses across the country. Before trying to answer either of those questions, let’s first define some terms. Divest is the opposite of invest, so we’re talking about eliminating financial investments. As it relates to colleges and universities, divestment refers to the institution’s endowment, or the “legal structure for managing, and in many cases indefinitely perpetuating, a pool of investments” (thanks Wikipedia!). Essentially, a university receives money (donations from alumni, etc.) and invests it all over the place. Those investments pay returns, and that’s part of the way colleges pay the bills and save money for their future.  

Divestment on college campuses isn’t a new idea—tobacco investments and those in South Africa during the time of Apartheid are perhaps the two most historically infamous. Today’s divestment movement is squarely aimed at getting fossil fuel investments out of university endowments, and it’s the “fossil fuel” part that positions this discussion as perhaps the most serious and heated (no pun intended) of the last decade. Environmental issues (as well as those addressing equality and social justice) are no stranger to college life, but as "green” awareness has been adopted by huge swaths of the mainstream culture, student activists have evolved into well-organized and politically astute movements with real power to sway public and on-campus opinion. 

Ando enthusiastically supports the divestment movement, as we believe that “green” investments in areas like renewable energy and regenerative farming are not just good for the environment, but the global economy as well. Fossil fuels may have made sense in the past, but the science is clear and the argument settled—the devastating effects of climate change pose a threat to every living thing on earth. It’s the job of leaders...public, private, and collegiate...to do everything possible to minimize carbon emissions, stabilize the environment, and provide for the more sustainable future we envision for ourselves.  

With the deadly effects of climate change (wild fires, hurricanes, heatwaves, rising sea levels, etc.) ravaging every corner of the country and planet, these points are getting increasingly difficult to justify, and we should remember that, as President Barak Obama said, “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Great progress is being made—the University of Minnesota and Boston University have decided to divest, and students at Harvard have just won their battle. The University of California has completely divested from fossil fuels. As said by Richard Sherman, chair of the UC Board of Regents' investments committee, regarding the announcement, "As long-term investors, we believe the university and its stakeholders are much better served by investing in promising opportunities in the alternative energy field rather than gambling on oil and gas." 

Just as we believe in the benefits of divestment, Ando equally believes in the necessity of passionate people with opposing views to engage in vigorous debate. But much the way that the “debate” over the legitimacy of climate change is over, so is the time to justify and rationalize continued investments in the fossil fuel industries. Carbon-neutral buildings, electric vehicles, and plant-based diets are no longer fringe ideas, they’re mainstream, responsible, and kinda’ sorta’ necessary for this spinning blue ball to continue sustaining the nearly nine billion of us that call it home. 

So, what can you do...how can you add your voice to the conversation? Lots of ways! For starters, you can always reach out to Divest Ed, the national training and strategy hub for student fossil fuel divestment campaigns. They help students ask their schools one simple question: “Will our colleges act as civic leaders and take a stand for people and communities, or will they continue to hoard resources and empower corporations?” (Spoiler Alert—they're shooting for the first part, and so is Ando!) Get involved, lend your unique talents to this cause (and others you care about), and choose to make a difference. Because as Margaret Meade, 1978’s Planetary Citizen of the Year Award recipient said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” 

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