USM President Backs Divesting Fossil Fuel Investment for Endowments

Bob Shaws and Read Brugger, 350Maine

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,314)

“CarbonFest is an interactive event to address climate change in a fun and engaging way.  We hope with this people will start talking about climate change and open the dialogue on the issues,” said Shaun Carland, organizer of the first CarbonFest today at the Woodbury Center on the USM campus, Portland.  The event ran from 11 am - 4:30 pm today.  It was under the auspices of Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability (“SEAS”) Carland, a junior at USM added.  “We hope it will become an annual event and begin a new tradition on the USM campus.”

The national organization 350.org was the inspiration for the formation last year of 350 Maine.  “We think the climate change crises is the biggest threat to  humanity.  And to address it we must end the influence that the fossil fuel corporations have over our political and economic systems,” said Read Brugger, one of the founders of the state chapter, this afternoon. “That can only happen when we have a mass movement of people dedicated to that.  The group has picked four issues on which to concentrate: The tar sands in NE., the East-West  Corridor, a policy team that is pursuing legislation on energy efficiency and  renewabale energy initiatives at the state level,  the Searsport LPG tank and lastly, divestment of fossil fuel from college endowments.   Please visit www.350Maine.org for more information.

Divestment of fossil fuel investments is a hot topic right now – both in pension funds as wel as college endowments.  Brian Jones, (D) District 45, has sponsored a bill that would divest the state’s pension fund from fossil fuels. LR 730.  (MPERS).  It’s in the revisor’s office currently.  The College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, announced on March 11th that the trustees accepted a student proposal to divest the college from all fossil fuel-related investments.  The divestment of all stocks goes into effect immediately according to Brugger. (“COA” followed in the footsteps of Unity College who divested its fossil fuels investment from its endowment last November.) Chriss Sutherland, of “SEAS” is trying to get the University of Maine System and other Maine colleges to follow Unity’s leadership.

Last month Sutherland  attended a special meeting of the University of Maine System Investment Committee to discuss divesting the Systems endowment from fossil fuel elsewhere and took extensive notes.  USM President Theo Kalikow is a  proponent of divesting the endowment from fossil fuel stocks.  She said in part:  “The reason that I’m here is because this is not just another social issue…..I think it’s special not only because of the issue itself and the relationship to global warming and how in the long run if we don’t do some things we are not going to be here…this is about the fate of the Earth…We have very few opportunities to lead in a symbolically important way.  This might be one of them so I think we ought to take it seriously.” However, investment advisors countered they had a fiduciary responsibility to make the best investments and not a moral responsibility to do that.  Alternative investments might not be as good as fossil fuel investments.  Kalikow said she’d like this discussion to continue at a higher level.

USM Professor Nancy Artz told the assembled students:  “Keep doing what you are doing – like recycling and buying locally.  But our individual efforts will not save the climate.  There aren’t enough of us who are going to change and in the great scheme of things, the atmosphere won’t notice. Changing public policy is the answer. Put a tax on anyone using fossil fuels.  The use will drop,” Artz concluded.