FAQ

 

Divestment is a complicated issue, there's no denying it. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions and concerns about our campaign. Have a question you don't see represented here? Shoot us an email at barnarddivest@gmail.com and we'll be happy to answer it for you! 

Focus on Carbon Footprint Instead Shareholder Activism Divestment Won't Make a Difference It Would Hurt the Endowment It's Too Complicated

Focus on Carbon Footprint Instead

Shouldn’t we focus on reducing our own personal carbon footprint?

The solution to a systematic problem is a systematic change. Divestment is taking similar core values as personal carbon footprint reduction and placing them on a larger, systematic scale. While decisions an individual citizen makes to reduce her own carbon footprint are important, they do not combat the system in place that allows fossil fuel companies to dictate our national energy policy for their own profit. Divestment will economically and politically marginalize these companies, taking away their power and influence, in a way that personal practice can not.  Divestment does not mean that we are not working on our own personal carbon footprints: you still can, while divesting! Rather, divestment combats the funding source of fossil fuel lobbyists who actively obstruct incentives for quicker, wider adoption of technologies to reduce personal carbon footprints.

 

Shareholder Activism

If we divest, we can’t hold these companies responsible for their actions, right?

Actually, divesting is holding these companies responsible for their actions, and it is the most successful way. Shareholder activism, or the idea of having a “seat at the table,” is a common argument against divestment, on the grounds that having a voice in the decisions of fossil fuel companies will do more than stigmatizing them. Sometimes shareholder resolutions are effective avenues for change, but the fossil fuel industry is different. Their business plan is inherently flawed since it is based on burning more than five times the maximum amount of carbon established as the limit for keeping global climate change beneath 2 degrees Celsius. Shareholder resolutions are only useful in cases where a company can reform its practices, principles, or procedures, but are virtually impossible when the reform undermines the economic purpose of the company in question. Companies can, and frequently do, throw out shareholder resolutions that are “related to the company’s ordinary business operations.”

Divestment is the most powerful and direct way an institution can help stop climate change, by using its considerable social clout to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry.



Divestment Won\'t Make a Difference

Will divesting from these huge, billion dollar industries even make a difference in their economic operations?

It is correct that divesting a few stocks in the fossil fuel industry will not meaningfully impact their financial operations, but that’s not the point. Divestment aims to remove the legitimacy of a fossil fuel industry whose current business model will lead to severe, widespread, irreversible impacts on people. The goal of divestment is not to bankrupt fossil fuel companies, but to stigmatize and marginalize them. Divestment’s success does not rely solely on harming the economic operations of the fossil fuel industry, but on undermining their political and social influence, thus carving out the space for other policies and ideas about new, transitional forms of energy.

Furthermore, colleges and universities are leaders when it comes to investments, and as they move their money, others will follow. As a college with a specific mission to “address issues of gender in all of their complexity and urgency,” Barnard has a responsibility to align its actions with its values. By refusing to profit from a business model based on wrecking the planet and disproportionately harming women, Barnard will set a standard for action against degradation and destabilization of the earth and the people on it. Institutions like Barnard have a huge amount of influence, and can inspire other, similar colleges to follow in its footsteps, thus increasing the economic effect of divestment.



It Would Hurt the Endowment

Won’t divesting hurt the endowment? What about financial aid?

Firstly, coal stocks have plummeted in value in recent years, as has the oil price in recent months, meaning recently divested funds have actually avoided losses. This illustrates that harm to the endowment is not at all inevitable when divesting.  

Furthermore, a campus should be concerned with far more means of earning income than just returns on investments. Campus operating budgets also heavily rely on tuition and alumni donations. For example, when Unity College in Maine announced their commitment to divestment, they saw a substantial increase in donations and interest in the university. Daily campus administrators make choices on how to spend their operating budget to meet numerous different needs. Even in case of divestment yielding any kind of hypothetical loss, the campus operating budget can be strategically managed in a way that does not harm financial aid or other important student needs.



It\'s Too Complicated

Divesting seems really complicated. Is it really possible?

Yes, divestment is completely possible! History has proven divestment to be a feasible and successful solution to numerous systematic problems. Hundreds campuses, governments, counties, cities, and even countries, have divested in the past over different issues, or are working on divestment now. One of the most famous divestment campaigns was around the issue of South African Apartheid. By the mid-1980s, 155 campuses –  including some of the most famous in the country – had divested from companies doing business in South Africa. The South African divestment campaign helped break the back of the Apartheid government and usher in an era of democracy and equality. Currently, over $3.4 trillion has been divested from fossil fuels from over 500 institutions, with some extremely notable commitments to divestment from institutions such as The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The University of Glasgow, and the city of Oslo. The fossil fuel divestment movement is quickly gaining in popularity and efficacy, and now is the time to act!