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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Fossil fuel divestment is the morally correct thing to do

We have seen the protests and heard University President Thomas LeBlanc’s own words – it’s time for GW to divest from fossil fuels.

While divestment is the right thing to do, it is more complicated than it sounds and is not entirely effective unless it is accompanied by green policies. It could also be more difficult than critics have suggested because GW holds its fossil fuel investments through investment funds. The GW community still does not know which fossil fuel companies the University invests in, how officials define a fossil fuel investment or how the act can impact the University’s finances. But we do know that 3 percent of GW’s investments are in fossil fuels, and morally, we can do better. 

Jeanna Franchesca Dela Cruz | Cartoonist

Divesting from fossil fuels is only a small step toward a more sustainable university and might not positively impact climate change. But divestment is more than an attempt to stop climate change – it is a political statement that says the University acknowledges the threat of global warming and cares about students’ futures beyond their degrees. Most officials will not be around to see the planet burn, but students could witness the worst of climate change. Divestment might just be a statement, but it is the right statement to make.

Two peer schools, Syracuse and Georgetown universities, have begun to take steps toward divestment. Syracuse found that divesting did not significantly damage their endowment, and Georgetown decided to divest over several years and through several stages to limit the impact divestment would have on its endowment. Officials might be concerned that divestment would harm the University’s endowment, but other schools have shown that it could work if it is a gradual change.

The University can still take action to help the environment even if divestment does not have a great impact. Divestment should serve as a platform for GW to make a larger green push and take on climate change from multiple sides. The University could reinvest the endowment in the future of alternative fuels and join other universities in funding renewable energies. If fossil fuels represent 3 percent of GW’s $1.8 billion endowment – about $54 million – the University could reinvest in sustainable energies, which would increase GW’s $2 million sustainable investment fund. The University of British Columbia, which began divestment in 2019, established a $35 million sustainable investment fund. Middlebury College announced they would divest in 2019 and established a sustainable investment fund in 2014 – arguing that voluntary divestment is not enough to prevent climate change. Georgetown will also increase efforts to invest in renewable energies following its decision to divest.

The University has improved sustainability by cutting back carbon emissions, adding LEED-certified buildings and decreasing water consumption. The Board of Trustees’ upcoming task force that scopes out the feasibility of divestment is one of the first tangible steps the University has taken toward divestment and officials should continue to release information about the group. Administrators should release more information about the task force and specifically state whether they support the move instead of keeping students in the dark.

If administrators hope to gain the trust of students pushing for divestment, they will have to take more tangible steps to promote sustainability while prioritizing transparency. The University’s strategic pillars – the plan to improve on certain aspects of the University over the next five years – do not include sustainability. Adding sustainability as the fifth pillar could signal to students that administrators are prioritizing environmental issues. Additionally, the University should be transparent about the impact of divestment. The task force should be responsible for producing public statements and reports on the potential impact of divestment, and administrators should clarify what particular investments make up the 3 percent of the endowment that is invested in fossil fuels.

Divesting from fossil fuels, and reinvesting in alternative energies, renewable fuels and environmentally friendly companies will make the move more than a political statement. The University should use divestment as an opportunity to expand sustainability practices and lead the push against climate change.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.

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