Divest­ment of fos­sil-fuel hold­ings by Univer­sity of Den­ver would be un­wise.

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

While it is un­der­stand­able that some Univer­sity of Den­ver stu­dents might wish to see their in­sti­tu­tion shed its fos­sil-fuel hold­ings, such a move would be hardly re­al­is­tic, and we hope the trustees main­tain their in­de­pen­dence con­cern­ing their en­dow­ment’s port­fo­lio.

There is a teach­able mo­ment here, though in truth this kind of de­bate is get­ting stale.

As The Den­ver Post’s Jen­nifer Brown re­ported this week, DU stu­dents, led by New York-based 350.org, have con­vinced the univer­sity to study their re­quest to di­vest hold­ings in coal, nat­u­ral gas and oil com­pa­nies. The univer­sity has as­sem­bled a task force. The task force has had seven meet­ings. Task force mem­bers say they feel a mo­ral obli­ga­tion to study the re­quest, and with ur­gency.

Win­ning that kind of trac­tion is what the ac­tivists at 350.org get paid to do by their ide­o­log­i­cal donors, and they’ve en­joyed even greater suc­cess at some uni­ver­si­ties. In Colorado, for ex­am­ple, Naropa Univer­sity in Boulder has promised to take such steps.

Naropa is in good com­pany. The likes of Yale and Stan­ford uni­ver­si­ties have taken up sim­i­lar pledges. But so far no other Colorado univer­sity has done so. Nor has Har­vard, a fact that we hope DU trustees keep in mind as they face this chal­lenge.

Cli­mate change is fright­en­ing and worth com­bat­ing, of course. We’ve long been in fa­vor of tak­ing rea­son­able steps to­ward a greater re­liance on en­ergy sources — like wind and so­lar — that don’t con­trib­ute to a warmer planet.

But as noted by DU’s vice chan­cel­lor for le­gal af­fairs, Paul Chan, the mis­sion of the univer­sity is to pro­vide a good ed­u­ca­tion for its stu­dents. Pre­sum­ably, many of them will end up work­ing in fos­sil-fuel in­dus­tries or in ca­reers to aug­ment or ben­e­fit from them.

One DU stu­dent in­volved in the 350.org ef­fort said at a re­cent forum that the stu­dents’ goal isn’t to stig­ma­tize fel­low stu­dents who go on to fos­sil-fuel ca­reers, but to per­suade en­ergy com­pa­nies to switch to green en­ergy.

That sounds re­ally great, but it’s com­pletely un­re­al­is­tic to think that our state, our na­tion or other oth­ers can im­me­di­ately stop depend­ing on the plen­ti­ful fos­sil fu­els avail­able to pro­vide the power we need to live the lives to which we are ac­cus­tomed. It would be cruel to poor and hard­work­ing peo­ple in our coun­try and im­pov­er­ished na­tions be­yond our bor­ders to do so.

Here in Colorado, fos­sil-fuel de­vel­op­ment plays an im­por­tant role as a cor­po­rate ci­ti­zen that pro­vides good jobs for many work­ers while also pro­vid­ing the im­por­tant bridge fuel that is nat­u­ral gas: a fuel that in­ex­pen­sively keeps the lights on while pro­duc­ing far less pol­lu­tion than coal, for ex­am­ple.

Chan adds that tak­ing 350.org’s march­ing or­ders would harm DU’s abil­ity to serve its stu­dents, and con­strain its abil­ity to in­vest in com­pa­nies “that are also work­ing on mean­ing­ful change.”

As Brown notes in her re­port, the oil and gas in­dus­try spent $90 bil­lion in re­cent years on re­duc­ing green­house emis­sions

Fur­ther, it’s also not even clear that such a divest­ment would have any im­pact what­so­ever on cli­mate change.

We hope trustees de­fend their in­vest­ment prac­tices while find­ing ways to also in­vest in green en­ergy com­pa­nies that make it more fea­si­ble to wean our­selves from fu­els that harm the planet.

Katie Wood, Den­ver Post file

The Univer­sity of Den­ver’s trustees are con­sid­er­ing a plan to di­vest DU’s en­dow­ment of fos­sil fu­els.

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