Teams debate investment in fossil fuels
THE SANTA CLARA
April 30, 2015
Tempers flared as students debated the controversial issue of Santa Clara’s investments in fossil fuel extraction companies on Tuesday.
Seniors Troy Estes and Vishakha Joshi argued in the annual Ryland Debate, held by the university debate team, that Santa Clara should divest from fossil fuel extraction companies.
According to Estes and Joshi, divestment is in line with Santa Clara’s vision statement to build a more just and sustainable world, furthers Santa Clara’s plan to be climate-neutral by 2020 and directly takes money away from fossil fuel extraction companies.
“If Santa Clara wants to claim to be sustainable, then we can’t invest in companies that are mining coal out of the Earth and burning it into the atmosphere,” Estes said. “Every single ethical obligation the university sets forth directly contradicts this entire issue.”
In 2009, Santa Clara divested from Massey Energy, a corporation that mined coal through mountaintop removal, which the affirmative team cited in their argument. President Michael Engh, S.J., said that, as a university, we “contradicted our ethical guidelines for investment” by holding stock in the company, according to a press release.
Seniors Hamda Khan and Michael Harris argued against the resolution, and said Santa Clara could risk losing millions of dollars in endowment funds if they divest from fossil fuel extraction companies. This could jeopardize student scholarships, faculty salaries and funding for new classes.
Both teams noted that the administration does not disclose their investment portfolio.
“We have no idea how much money is invested and how divesting from these companies will affect the students, and how it will affect the university in terms of the monetary fund,” Estes said. “At the end of the day, you have to take a gamble on whether that potential effect is going to be worse than aligning with our ethical issues and taking a stance towards a more sustainable university.”
The team in favor of divestment said that the Rockefeller Foundation divested from fossil fuels last year and saw no critical decrease in their profits. The amount of funds divested from fossil fuels was roughly the size of Santa Clara’s $875 million endowment.
On April 16, the Associated Student Government Senate did not pass a resolution that advocated divestment — 14 senators voted no, six voted yes. ASG senator Sania Baqai said that the majority of the senators initially supported the resolution, but ended up voting against it because they were uncertain about how divestment would affect the student body.
“We couldn’t get the exact numbers,” Baqai said. “We have no way of knowing how much of our investment would be damaged by divesting. It was the uncertainty of how it would affect tuition.”
Khan said that divestment takes the focus away from the campus movement to become climate-neutral and produce zero waste.
To make Santa Clara more sustainable, the administration could instead push to stop watering the lawns, purchase electric vehicles for campus use and cut down on food waste, according to Khan.
“It will generate this mindset that we have accomplished this great thing and now, our part is done,” Khan said.
Junior Sean Reilly, a member of Fossil Free SCU, an organization pushing for divestment, said the issue of divestment is important because the production of wind energy is actually cheaper than the production of fossil fuels, which currently have billions of dollars in subsidies.
“The renewable energy sector is faster-growing than fossil fuels, so it’s an upward-looking graph and it’s increasing at an increasing rate, whereas fossil fuels are increasing at a decreasing rate,” said junior Blair Libby, another member of Fossil Free SCU. “It’s only a matter of time before (investing in) fossil fuels isn’t as good a decision as (investing in) renewable energy.”
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