Tufts must step up, become a leader in climate action

Divestment Viewpoint Graphic
By Sam Farbman

University President Anthony Monaco announced on Feb. 10 that the Board of Trustees voted to prohibit direct investment in 120 coal and tar companies with the largest reserves. The decision is a landmark victory for students and faculty that have been organizing for nearly a decade. But the largest demand — full divestment — has not been met. This is in part due to the nature of the endowment: 87% of the endowment investments are held in commingled funds, which are not customizable. Only 2% of Tufts’ investments reside in internally managed accounts, the only type of investment over which Tufts has direct control. 

To compensate for the harms that externally managed investments present, Tufts must take significant action. Promising to invest $10 million to $25 million in positive impact funds related to climate change is a good start, and the creation of a dashboard to report on the university’s progress will provide vital transparency. The Responsible Investment Advisory Group will reevaluate the university’s progress and investments in two to five years, but this timeline is not viable for an issue with the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. As Tufts Climate Action said in its statement on the divestment decision, “the climate crisis is an urgent issue that does not wait for bureaucracy.” 

For younger generations, climate change is a particularly salient issue. Many members of older generations who own and invest in the harmful companies we are asking Tufts to fully divest from will not be here when the most detrimental environmental effects come to fruition. We do not have the luxury of ignoring this problem as it grows toward irreversible proportions. Climate change already affects the trajectories of younger people’s lives, complicating major decisions. When thinking about our futures, we must consider whether it is even ethical to have children in a world with increasingly hostile environments and overburdened resources. Tufts must understand that this issue is not simply important to students — it is existential.

Climate change is a crisis unfolding in the present, one that we cannot relegate to a distant future. Millions of people, many concentrated in the global South, feel the effects of extreme heat. With greater frequency, we witness other environmental conditions that climate change can influence and exacerbate, including rampant wildfires, pandemics, rising sea levels and severe weather events, which are manifest in the polar vortex storms sweeping the United States. The unprecedented snowfall in Texas has already been linked to 44 deaths and as much as $50 billion in economic costs. These dire consequences demand immediate, bold action.

Being that climate change disproportionately affects communities of color and low income communities, it is also a social justice issue. Tufts has committed to being an anti-racist institution and highly values social justice and civic engagement. Acting quickly on climate change, both through full divestment and other positive climate action, advances those missions which are priorities to Tufts and its students. Tufts has an endowment of nearly $2 billion and thus wields a substantial amount of power. It holds a responsibility to leverage this power to promote the well-being of its students and the larger communities and society it is a part of.

Full divestment is in the best interests of the university from a financial standpoint as well. As described by the chief investment officer of Georgetown University, who committed to full divestment last year, climate change makes investing in fossil fuels more risky and investing in renewable energy more profitable in the long term. Tufts does not need to invest in fossil fuels to continue thriving as an institution. 

Though it is commendable that Tufts is making an effort to respond to the calls of student climate activist groups, the university is far from being a pioneer in climate action. 42 U.S. four-year institutions had committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment by March 2020, 14 of which have endowments comparable to Tufts’. Though it does not use divestment as a criterion, The Princeton Review has a list of the top 50 green colleges in the U.S. — and Tufts is not on it. We must do better. 

Tufts must make it clear that it is not willing to continue supporting companies, even indirectly, that endanger the future of humanity. This includes oil and natural gas companies, which were not part of this assessment of Tufts’ holdings. Tufts should strive to become a leader in climate action, not a follower. As students, we must hold our university accountable to its promises of divestment, transparency and direct investment in positive impact funds related to climate change. It is our collective responsibility to pursue a sustainable future.