Campus debate regarding energy sourcing continues

To safeguard the environment or to safeguard profits, that is the question.

The movement to divest from fossil fuel companies has gained national importance. Nine colleges, 22 municipalities, two counties, two dozen religious groups and 19 foundations have committed to divest from fossil fuel. Guilford may soon be joining this list.

After a debate in the board of trustees’office last February, Guilford students and alumni are raising awareness about Guilford’s current investments in fossil-fuel companies and its environmental impact.

Defined as ridding oneself of immoral investments, stocks and unions, the fossil fuel divestment crusade calls universities and colleges to refrain from financing fossil fuel corporations.

So why are alumni and students intent on divorcing Guilford from fossil fuels?

“It’s not just about a political agenda against oil companies,” stated senior Julia Draper. “It’s more about the social injustices of allowing these huge corporations to destroy our Earth and continue to create these huge inequalities in the world.”

In an effort to convince the board of trustees to take an affirmative stand on this issue, Draper, along with Guilford students Tom Clement, Lily Collins and Marek Wojtala, sent a letter to the board highlighting Guilford’s $65.5 million endowment in fossil fuel companies and requesting that the Quaker principle of stewardship be taken into account before a decision was made.

The topic was tabled.

“At Guilford, we should be in line with Quaker values,” said Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment Executive Director and President of the Guilford College Alumni Association’s Board of Directors Katherine Cummings. “Religious and faith values should directly impact the investor’s money. Guilford has had a positive fervor in protecting the environment up to this point, so why stop now?”

Along with her team of Wojtala, Collins and Draper, Cummings hopes to raise awareness about the positive impacts of divesting from fossil fuels — some of which include preventing pollution and protecting the environment from the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels.

However, not everyone in higher education advocates for divestment.

“While I share their belief in the importance of addressing climate change, I do not believe, nor do my colleagues on the Corporation, that university divestment from the fossil fuel industry is warranted or wise,” said President of Harvard Drew Faust in a statement she delivered on the topic.

Assistant Professor of Economics Natalya Shelkova explains a divestment  policy’s  implications.

“The fossil fuel industry in the energy sector is among one of the most profitable enterprises in the economy,” said Shelkova. “It performs well in the stock market, so there would be financial consequences regarding divestment.”

Are there any feasible substitutes for fossil fuel investment?

“There is no good alternative out there yet for investment in fossil fuels,” said Kathy Cooper, an Early College teacher and active environmentalist.

“There is nothing out there right now that can fully support a university with the electrical and power needs they have.”

So, what might become of Guilford’s investment in fossil fuels? The only way to find out is the next board of trustees’ meeting coming this October.