Mar

13

Columbia Divests From Coal Producers

Written by

The room where it happened?

We may be on break, but the machine of Columbia bureaucracy never stops. This morning, President Bollinger sent out an email to the Columbia community announcing that the Trustees recently voted to divest from companies that are involved in thermal coal production. Thermal coal is primarily used in plants that generate electricity, and has the highest level of CO2 emission per unit of energy, according to a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI). The Trustees also decided to increase Columbia’s current efforts to reduce the university’s carbon footprint, and conduct more research in the area of global warming and climate change. This decision was the result of what Bollinger called “a lengthy and thorough process.”

After the factual part of the email, Bollinger gave a few comments about the relationship between divestment and Columbia in general. His three most important statements are: “divestment is an action the University takes only rarely and when it is determined to be in service of the University’s highest values”; “[the Columbia community’s] most powerful means of affecting the world for the better is through our basic research”; and “we must do all we can as an institution to set a responsible course in this urgent area of climate change.” Bollinger clearly aimed to emphasize the importance of the Trustees’ recent decision, while discouraging activist groups campaigning for similar divestment decisions.

The email concluded with Bollinger’s thanks for the members of the Columbia community who have caused this divestment decision to come about, and with a piece of foreshadowing: next month, there will be a “significant announcement” about future environmental sustainability at Columbia.

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I write to share that, at the most recent Trustee meeting, the Trustees voted to divest from companies substantially engaged in thermal coal production. We also concluded that we should strengthen our existing efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, conduct additional research and policy analysis in the area of global warming and climate change, and participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Climate Change Program, which seeks firm-specific disclosure of carbon-related activity. This followed a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) after a lengthy and thorough process in which many within the Columbia community participated.

I have just three further comments. First, it is important to understand that divestment is an action the University takes only rarely and when it is determined to be in service of the University’s highest values. That is why there is a very careful and deliberative process leading up to any decision such as this. Second, we must always bear in mind that our most powerful means of affecting the world for the better is through our basic research. In this effort, Columbia has been and is at the very pinnacle of scholarly commitment and distinction. And, lastly, we must do all we can as an institution to set a responsible course in this urgent area of climate change. To this end, much has been done. One example is how our renowned Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has decided to rely on solar power for 75% of its electrical energy needs. And, importantly, next month we will have a significant announcement regarding a new plan for further enhancing the environmental sustainability of the University’s operations.

I want to express my deepest appreciation for the thoughtful and substantive contributions of so many within the University that together have brought us to this historic point.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Congratulations Columbia! Great move.

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