Consider this hypothetical situation: You’re an investor looking for a good return on your money. A good value comes from buying poison, but the return only appreciates once you drink it.
Do you do it?
The University of Miami faces a similar choice with the question of divestment – the opposite of investment – from the fossil fuel industry.
As a bit of background, our school has a pile of money in the endowment of just under $900 million, according to the university’s “Fast Facts” webpage. The profits are skimmed to support scholarships and research, but most of it is invested in a portfolio that includes fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil (Oil) and Peabody Energy (Coal).
Because UM is a private school, it’s tough to find exact numbers on how invested we are, but the national average is five percent, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
This works out to $45 million in dirty energy. Yuck.
Opponents of divestment talk about their returns, but fossil fuels aren’t even the smartest investment. Studies are mixed about the short-term effects of divesting, but even a report funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America showed profit losses amounting to only 0.7 percent at the most.
Divesting doesn’t erase endowment money, which can instead be put in tech firms, or bonds, or literally anything besides companies seeking capital to destroy the Earth.
Furthermore, universities are particularly long-term focused investors and sustainable investing will only get better returns as time goes by. Solar-grid plans are already scaring carbon-based utilities today.
This all says nothing of the fact that our university is directly and existentially threatened by sea level rise. Walking to class wouldn’t be much fun if runoff from Lake Osceola swamped your path. More scarily, both Miami and the university can’t survive as Venice with the threat of regional hurricanes.
But research conducted by the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science already positions UM to be a leader in climate change action. Why not demonstrate our commitment by putting our money where our research is?
Most importantly, supporting divestment will require a huge, united movement from the student body. I see it as the chance to bring all students together to make an attainable and positive impact on campus.
What else is there that binds us? What else does Hurricane pride mean? It has to extend beyond the transient things – the Homecoming game only happens once a year. I can’t think of a stronger expression of love for our alma mater than raising our voices when our school is threatened.
It could also be a nice welcome message to the next university president: the students of UM deserve to be heard. Whether your cause is Greek life or social justice, how much do you value your voice?
Miami could join a movement of hundreds of schools considering divestment. Twenty-six, including Stanford, have already made commitments. They are the leaders that can be proud today of how their choices will improve tomorrow.
Or, we could stay quiet, lose money in the long-run and keep drinking our dirty poison.
Patrick Quinlan is a junior majoring in international studies and political science.
See Also: Andrew Langen’s CON piece “Judge university investments solely on their economic value”