Last year I was student representative to a committee about fossil fuel divestment. At first, I was excited to see the administration was finally listening, but it quickly became clear that those in power had no intention of even trying to make divestment work. They repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to grasp the political motives behind a divestment campaign and refused to share information with an independent third party that would review their proposed financial models and provide assistance. In the end, instead of taking initiative to find a way for Tufts to divest from fossil fuels, the committee recommended that Tufts create a $1 million sustainability fund.
That’s great, right? Wrong. Tufts has $70 million invested in the fossil fuel industry and an endowment of $1.6 billion as of June 2014. That means Tufts invests 70 times more into an industry dedicated to destroying the earth than into our new “sustainability” fund. Coincidentally, $1 million is also around the cost of the new Jumbo statue. In the eyes of a wealthy institution, $1 million is chump change. By creating the sustainability fund, Tufts is refusing to acknowledge or validate the gravity of its destructive impact on the earth.
In isolation, the sustainability fund is a victory for Tufts Climate Action. Students demonstrated that there was a need to reform the way that we invest, and Tufts made a small concession. But what does this fund really do? It doesn’t make a political statement that Tufts’ morals and mission are fundamentally at odds with the fossil fuel industry. It doesn’t contribute to the global fossil fuel divestment campaign aimed at taking away the fossil fuel industry’s social license to operate. Nor does the sustainability fund address the cold fact that Tufts cares about profits over people. This fund just makes Tufts look good to potential donors and students without making any meaningful changes in the way that it invests. I am tired of Tufts’ continued greenwashing — portraying itself as sustainable and environmentally conscious while continuing to support and profit from the most environmentally destructive industry in the world.
As an almost alumni (3 weeks to go), I would like to tell the Tufts administration loud and clear that I and a significant number of alums will NOT be donating to the sustainability fund. I have pledged to WITHHOLD donations to Tufts (excluding donations to financial aid and clubs) until Tufts commits to divestment from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of alumni are making this pledge, and several have already donated to a recently created multi-school divested escrow fund. The escrow fund is a fossil fuel-free investment option for alumni who wish to leverage their financial power in the fight for fossil fuel divestment. Money in the fund will only go toward donors’ respective institutions once those institutions commit to divestment. There are currently 18 universities with participating alums, including Tufts University.
In the words of David Pomerantz (LA ’07), “If Tufts did divest, I would happily begin annual donations, and be proud to support an alma mater that’s leading the way on climate change. I know many of my fellow alumni feel similarly. I want to be proud of my diploma, but I don’t think I’ll be able to feel that way fully until Tufts does the right thing and divests”
The cost of not divesting is being borne tenfold on the backs of those who have already lost their homes and families to flooding, food and water shortages and devastating storms. Frontline communities are living with the toxic and lethal consequences of the continued extraction and production of fossil fuels. Moreover, the fact that these communities are primarily poor communities of color makes Tufts’ refusal to divest an act of environmental racism. Tufts is complicit in this global and local environmental injustice through our financial investments in the fossil fuel industry. This is morally egregious and goes against the very mission and values of Tufts University.
I urge the administration to put its money where its mouth is, and for all alumni to voice their dissent and force Tufts to be on the right side of history.