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Rutgers is Profiting off of Climate Wreckage

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Article by Nolan Fehon, originally published in the Daily Targum

“If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage." 

This is a quote from Bill McKibben, a co-founder of, not only condemning fossil fuel companies for profiting from selling the driver of climate change but also all those investing in these companies.

By this definition, who is wrong? Who is investing in the fossil fuel industry? With a brief look, you can see it is everywhere, especially in universities. This is why the campaign to divest from the fossil fuel industry has been the fastest-growing divestment movement in history.

With an endowment of approximately $1.4 billion, the financial decisions that Rutgers makes can have a real impact on the energy market. It is clear that Rutgers does not respect this weight, as it is sinking six percent of it ($60-80 million) from these funds into fossil fuels.

With that money, Rutgers is profiting off of climate wreckage. That means more forest fires, lowering biodiversity, disproportionate impacts on communities of color, changes in weather systems, decreasing agricultural yield and more.

It is important to note that Rutgers’ impact is magnified by joining the divestment movement. The global movement has been so successful that it has resulted in a massive $11 trillion being pulled from fossil fuel companies. It is no wonder Shell identified  “divestment and climate litigation as material risks to the company’s bottom line” in an annual report. Yes, divestment works. 

The most urgent act students can take right now is to vote (VOTE HERE) in the student referendum for Rutgers to divest from fossil fuels. Today is the last day to vote in Rutgers University Student Assembly elections.

As students cast their ballot for the Assembly members, they can vote to move Rutgers' money out of the fossil fuel industry. For this to count though, 10 percent of the student population needs to vote on this question — so vote now!

You may be doubtful about the power of a student referendum on the administration and millions of dollars. You are right! If passed, this will not force the administration to divest on the spot, but it is a crucial step.

The good thing is this referendum is not happening in a vacuum. The fossil fuel divestment movement has been pushing strongly for the past year, and a massive “yes to divest” in the referendum is just another big step that needs to happen. Last September, hundreds marched under several demands, one of which was for Rutgers to divest.

This demand was not acted on, so a formal divestment request (fossil fuels, prison and military-industrial complexes, sweatshops, boycott, divestment and sanctions movement) was submitted. 

The Board of Governors Joint Committee on Investments announced a committee would be formed to decide if Rutgers' will divest from fossil fuels. Despite also being clearly unethical, none of these other divestment subjects were acknowledged as legitimate. 

It might seem like we have this in the bag, but student activists are justifiably skeptical about any movement from the administration. This committee has been announced but has not actually been formed. Not only that but also, this is not a committee to decide on how to divest from fossil fuels — it is deciding if we should. Fossil fuel divestment still needs to be pushed.

Student activists are skeptical of committees in general as they can be used by the administration to start a waiting game. They can give the committee a lengthy decision process, wait until student pressure subsides and quietly go back to business as usual.

There is no way to know how seriously Rutgers is taking fossil fuel divestment, but it is not our job to know! It is not up to students to guess the administrators' intentions. Students just need to push and vote until divestment is fully achieved.

Divesting is a great thing, but some may still ask if it is Rutgers' responsibility to actually carry it out. We can ask Rutgers ourselves.

The product to be divested from must be antithetical to the core values of the university, the industry to be divested from must-have sole or shared responsibility for the concerns raised and that the concerns reflect the consensus of the university, according to Rutgers’ own divestment policy. Check, check and (after the referendum) check.

By continuing to invest, Rutgers would be stating that burning fossil fuels and perpetuating changes in our climate is in line with our core beliefs. That is not something I can take Scarlet pride in.

The last point to mention in our divestment policy is the fiduciary responsibility of the endowment to turn a profit. By being late to the game, we have a lot of evidence that it is a good financial decision.  

Outside of academia, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund divested from fossil fuels and reinvested into carbon-free energy, while maintaining a profit. The University of Maryland and the University of California are both large institutions that divested. The University of Maryland, having divested less recently, has shown continued growth to its endowment.

Considering the ability of institutions to grow their endowments with ethical investments, and the fact that earlier this year oil prices went negative, can only lead to one conclusion: Fossil fuel investments are financially irresponsible. Whether it be solar, wind or nuclear, we need to take our money out of oil and into the energies of the future.

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