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To: Scott Cowen, Interim President of Case Western Reserve University, and The Members of the Case Western Reserve University Board of Trustees
Petition to Divest Case Western Reserve University From Fossil Fuels
We the undersigned demand that Interim President Scott Cowen and the Case Western Reserve University Board of Trustees take immediate action to completely divest Case Western Reserve University's endowment from fossil fuels, where complete divestment includes all of the following actions:
1) Divestment of all endowment funds with fossil fuel exposure of any form, including, but not limited to,direct or indirect investments, public equities, index funds, corporate bonds, or commingled assets that include holdings in fossil fuel companies, in a transparent and publicly verifiable manner
2) Commitment to halting all future investments with any relation to the production and/or exploration of fossil fuels
3) Public acknowledgement of the role fossil fuels play in causing the climate crisis and their disproportionate impact on low income and minority communities.
4) Public accountability for past investment including an action plan to repair historic oppressions of the aforementioned communities in the Cleveland area, in addition to making additions to the existing commitments to local renewable energy alternatives
Why is this important?
Humanity is at a precipice. In October 2018, the United Nations International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) stipulated that humanity would have to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The science is clear that institutions must play a role in the mass effort to avoid climate catastrophe.
The 2017 Carbon Majors Report found that just 100 fossil fuel companies have been responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. If we are to avoid the least catastrophic side effects of increased global temperature, which include droughts, floods, and famines increasing in both frequency and severity the longer we fail to act, “the world would have to leave two-thirds of its fossil fuel reserves unexploited” As a result, it is downright abhorrent to continue harboring any connection to an industry that bears significant responsibility for the crisis that disproportionately harms low-income, and minority communities, in addition to threatening the future of each and every human being. Specifically in regards to the Cleveland community, our region has been detrimentally impacted by heightened droughts and floods—the results of which reverberate through agriculture and infrastructure development, contributing to widespread, systemic, environmental racism.
CWRU’s $1.87 billion endowment currently has an undisclosed exposure to fossil fuels, an industry that has led an attack on science and climate crimes against humanity. The destruction perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry is not accidental. The Climate Deception Dossiers, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, contains over 300 pages worth of documents and internal memos from fossil fuel companies that display a deep understanding of potential implications as far back as the 1980s. Even more unforgivable is the evidence of “forged letters to Congress, secret funding of a supposedly independent scientist, the creation of fake grassroots organizations, multiple efforts to deliberately manufacture uncertainty about climate science and more.” CWRU cannot credibly claim to be an institution that promotes scientific inquiry and academic integrity, nor can it continue to assert that the university holds self-stated core values such as “academic freedom and responsibility,” “ethical behavior” and an “emphasis on sustainability” while continuing to invest in publicly traded fossil fuel companies.
There is undeniable evidence that fossil fuels have been and will continue to be an increasingly imprudent investment. As shown in the report written by American University’s Student Government Financial Research Office, which led to the university’s subsequent divestment several months ago, “indices without fossil fuel investments perform better than those with such investments...fossil free investments have practically identical, often lesser, volatility as compared to their traditional counterparts, speaking to their sustainability.” The report continues with the evidence that divestment does not impair an investment portfolio, stating that “portfolios that divest from fossil fuels and utilities and invest in clean energy perform better than those with fossil fuels and utilities.” Finally, the report explains how investing in fossil fuels is, contrary to popular belief, an extraordinarily high-risk endeavor. These risks arise from a number of sources: global policy changes aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; evolving technology which has the potential to undermine the success of fossil fuels, exemplified by the prediction that “LED lighting will reduce electricity consumption for lighting by 40 percent between 2013 and 2030”; and the potential for fossil fuels to become “stranded assets” through various pressures which will render them liabilities. All these factors contribute to the estimate that average annual returns may fall up to 74% and 63% in the coal and oil subsectors, respectively. Fossil fuel divestment is not only a decision which is morally right, but one which is also realistic and financially sound.
On April 22, American University announced that although they had “had no direct investments in fossil fuel funds for several years,” they [had] divested all of its public fossil fuel investments from its endowment. In AU’s case, much of the fossil fuel exposure was “concentrated entirely in commingled funds.” However, in what CWRU might call “Thinking Beyond the Possible™ ,” over just several months, AU’s Board of Trustees eliminated the remaining $12.9 million of fossil fuel exposure within the public endowment portfolio by selling “$350 million in commingled and index funds, with the proceeds reinvested in investments that do not include any fossil fuel holdings.” Institutions such as American University, in addition to the University of Hawaii and Pratt Institute, have set the gold standard for complete divestment by showing not only, that it is realistic with both financially and socially responsible leadership, but also that joining these few universities gives CWRU the opportunity to establish itself as a leader in combating the climate crisis.
Continuing to ignore calls for divestment will undeniably stake the university, members of the board of trustees, and administrators sides in history as complicit in the continuing irreversible harm to the Cleveland community, and humanity as a whole.