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Student referendum slated
on fossil fuel divestment

As heating season kicks in here in New Haven (we saw a brief snow flurry this morning), a campaign for Yale to sell off its fossil-fuel investments is heating up.

Launched early this year, Fossil Free Yale asks the university to divest itself from the 200 largest producers of oil, gas, and coal as a step toward curbing climate change. Next week, Yale undergraduates get to vote on the subject in a Yale College Council referendum, prompted by a petition with more than 1,300 Yale-affiliated signers, according to the Yale Daily News.

"It is no longer disputed that climate change is a crisis of immense magnitude," Fossil Free Yale declares. It casts Yale's potential divestment as "largely a symbolic move" and "one tactic of many to solve the crisis."

The national fossil-fuel divestment movement goes further: after making a moral argument ("If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage."), it lists its demands to the fossil fuel companies:

* "They need immediately to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons."

* "They need to stop lobbying in Washington and state capitols across the country to preserve their special breaks."

* "Most importantly, they need to pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves underground forever."

A handful of colleges nationwide have committed to divest, and campaigns are underway at hundreds more. It's not yet clear whether the movement will reach the level of the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s or will remain smaller, like the tobacco divestment campaign of the 1990s.

So far, Fossil Free Yale has submitted a report to the university's Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, along with a proposal for asking energy companies in which Yale owns stock to report on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, a new group called Students for a Strong Endowment weighed in with an anti-divestment statement for the YCC referendum.

"We must put the university’s financial stability ahead of the desire to use Yale’s investments to make a political statement," the students argue. "We worry that the example set by divestment would encourage anyone with a cause to use the endowment as a means of political expression."

The YCC, which is itself neutral on the referendum question, will hold a "town hall" on the subject tomorrow night. Voting takes place November 17-20. If the referendum passes in accordance with YCC rules, then the council "must write a position paper outlining the student body’s stance in support of the referendum and present it to the administration."

Filed under environment, endowment
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