NC State is a place where students, faculty and staff gather to craft solutions to the increasingly complex issues that face our world. Research spans from topics like biomedical engineering to food safety. “We Solve Problems,” sits in big red letters at the top of NC State’s research webpage. “Real problems” are met with “real solutions.” But are they?
NC State’s “Think and Do” attitude, one that claims to combine intellectual understanding with a practical approach to the issues of today, falters under scrutiny when you consider how $43 million of the University’s $1 billion endowment remains invested in the fossil fuel industry. NC State, while attempting to prepare students for the “real world,” is simultaneously ignoring the real world implications of its own investments. They funnel money into an industry that is drilling and burning fuels which pollute our air and water and contribute to climate change, an industry that has run campaigns knowingly spreading misinformation about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, an industry that is organized around mining.
NC State’s Sustainability Strategic Plan portrays the University as an established sustainability leader that aims to reduce reliance on petroleum-based fuels while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Goals based on operations focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% from the 2008 baseline. But this baseline doesn’t take into account the $43 million NC State’s investment fund is putting into the fossil fuel industry. A leading research university that wants to teach students how to solve complex issues is lacking in its own systems by neglecting to address the impact of investing in an industry that is one of the biggest players in climate change.
Students, changemakers and anyone else hoping to address the ever-looming threat of climate change are all familiar with the roadblocks that come up in a world whose systems are organized around the unbridled consumption of natural resources. The power and influence of the fossil fuel industry and our reliance on fossil fuels taint many efforts to change the current trajectory of our planet. Investing in the fossil fuel industry is a surefire way to maintain this trajectory, and it gives the people polluting our planet money which translates to the power to control the health of our environment. Time has proven the leaders of the fossil fuel industry are not responsible stewards of our environment. If NC State truly wants to be a leader in sustainability, the University should consider how its investment in the fossil fuel industry also serves as a social license for an industry with incredibly high social and environmental costs to remain the status quo.
It’s not as if NC State is without alternatives, or its hands are tied by the economic benefit of investing in the fossil fuel industry. NC State’s Park Scholarships Endowment is managed separately from the $1 billion endowment and makes only socially responsible investments, which includes responsible investments with regard to the environment. This fund has been outperforming NC State’s main endowment, which is in line with predictions made by the International Energy Agency that renewable energy will consistently outperform fossil fuels by 2030.
If NC State truly wants to maintain its commitment to sustainability, it should make the socially, environmentally and economically responsible choice and make the transition from investing in fossil fuels to investing in an environmentally conscious way.
Students who care about creating a more sustainable and ethical campus can join the Climate Reality Project, a group focusing our efforts on divestment from fossil fuels at NC State. By participating in the Climate Reality Project, students can help ensure NC State exists with integrity in everything we do.
Meera Butalia is a second-year studying environmental sciences. Butalia is also a member of the Climate Reality Project at NC State.