The start of a new year provides a space to reflect on the past year and express hopes for the year ahead. In September, Harvard announced that it would stop investing in fossil fuels and reduce its existing investments in them. At the same time, BU announced that it would withdraw from fossil fuels. The COP26 summit in October and November further underscored the urgency of the climate crisis. In December, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu signed an order requiring the city of Boston to divest from fossil fuel industries by the end of 2025. Also in December, Tufts Chief Investment Officer Craig W. Smith, presented the webinar on fossil fuel divestment and Tufts’ endowment as part of the Path to Carbon Neutrality webinar series, hosted by the Tufts Office of Sustainability.
As a new member of the student organization Tufts Climate Action, I am very impressed with the efforts of former student activists who, since around 2012, have lobbied the administration to divest from fossil fuels. Their efforts led to the formation of the Responsible Investment Advisory Group, made up of administrators, professors, staff and students. In January 2021, a year ago last month, the RIAG released a set of recommendations to the board of directors. Since adopting these recommendations, Tufts has engaged to invest $18 million in renewable energy projects and companies that provide clean technologies and services. This is a good start.
There is great potential for a positive impact on the energy sector’s transition from its reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy if, as a nation, we push for increased investment in renewable energy and clean technology. Basic economic principles say that supply will cross demand at a point of equilibrium; by continuing to support a viable and cheaper alternative to fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy, demand for fossil fuels will decline and fossil fuel industries will become less profitable, creating an incentive to mitigate these harmful practices.
Tufts can tangibly reduce its own demand for fossil fuels by accelerating plans to make its campuses carbon neutral. Currently, a target is in place for the Medford/Somerville campus to be carbon neutral by 2050. Despite commendable efforts, this target date is far too far off to effectively address an urgent crisis like climate change. The deadline is already approaching, so we must act urgently.
The recent actions of American University should serve as an example of a more adequate response to the climate crisis. In 2018, it became the first urban campus and the first research university to achieve carbon neutrality. The university used a three-part strategy that involved reducing emissions, investing in renewable energy on and off campus, and purchasing carbon offsets for sources of emissions that cannot be eradicated with the current technologies. In this way, investments in renewable energy and clean technology are part of the larger goal of leveraging the power of a university to do its part in the fight against climate change and inspire other institutions to follow suit. not.
Divestment from the fossil fuel sector and investment in renewable energy and clean, ethical technology are two sides of the same coin. On the divestment side of the coin, we talk about direct investments — the direct ownership of an asset — and indirect investments — the investment in a portfolio of mixed assets managed by a third party. Because of the way Tufts manages its endowment, the university is better able to control its direct holdings, which make up 1% of Tufts’ investments. Therefore, the investment office should set a long-term goal to divest of all direct interests in natural gas and oil by a certain date. The goal should be supported by a detailed plan consisting of short-term steps to achieve that goal.
When the RIAG meets again in one to four years – between 2023 and 2026 – it will assess Tufts’ further progress towards its goals and set next steps. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, more frequent RIAG assessments can spur Tufts to move forward faster. Additionally, the investment office is expected to update its dashboard with more charts breaking down Tufts’ exposure to natural gas and oil companies and its investments in renewable energy companies. The investment office is also expected to post charts showing percentage returns correlated to Tufts’ portfolio exposures. This type of information would provide greater transparency on progress toward RIAG goals and facilitate further progress by putting opportunities for improvement into perspective.
In order to underscore the collective feelings of the student body on this issue, I urge readers to read TCA’s draft Statement of Environmental Principles and sign the petition for its adoption by the university. As students, we hold the collective power to encourage effective and timely action to alleviate the climate crisis. It is imperative that everyone in our community play a role in advocating for a cleaner, more sustainable future for our environment. TCA invites all students to attend its meetings on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the terrace room.