Earlier this year, the University of California made headlines when they completely divested from fossil fuels. This move was a step in the right direction, and students across the country have been calling for their universities to do the same. Although NC State has not been completely transparent with the student body about their investments, they did reveal that they are investing 4.3% of their investment fund, about 43 million dollars, on fossil fuels. The main goal of the Climate Reality Project is to convince our university to divest from fossil fuels and support sustainable energy instead. To understand this issue, we must first understand investment, divestment, and why it matters.
NC State has an investment fund of approximately 1 billion dollars. The university invests this money in several sectors, including energy. Within the energy category, 43 million dollars go toward fossil fuels, while 38 million dollars support other sources of energy. By investing in these companies, the university grows its wealth, but also supports the growth of these sectors. By investing in fossil fuel energy, our university is actively supporting climate change. With the past 5 years being the 5 hottest years on record, we have seen the effects of climate change, and we know the risks that we will face in the future. As a land-grant institution whose mission statement includes promoting “an integrated approach to problem solving,” NC State should do better, and it is up to the students and faculty to demand this change.
The Climate Reality Project aims to convince university leadership to divest from fossil fuels. Divestment would mean that NC State would no longer support companies that harm the environment, and it would send a message to all students that our school cares about our futures. The idea of divestment is not radical or new. In 1977, Hampshire college divested from South African investments as a protest against Apartheid. In 2011, Hampshire College also became the first university in the country to make fossil fuel divestment plans. Earlier this year, Georgetown University also joined the list of high-profile universities with plans for divestment.
Although NC State’s sustainability initiatives clearly show that they care about the environment, the university has yet to seriously entertain the idea of divestment. The main reason for this hesitation is, of course, money. NC State makes decent profits from their investments, and their endowment grew by approximately 900 million dollars between 2010 and 2019. Because of the university’s lack of transparency, we cannot be sure how much of this growth can be attributed to fossil fuel investments. However, we argue that the long-term cost of climate change is greater than the short-term benefits of investment.
Additionally, renewable energy is a growing sector, and North Carolina has some of the greatest potential for renewable energy in the country, specifically solar. By divesting from fossil fuels, NC State has the opportunity to reinvest in renewable energy, contributing to the growth of the sector, and making a meaningful contribution to the fight against climate change.
In short, NC State’s decision to invest in fossil fuels is irresponsible, illogical, and unethical. We, as a student body, need to hold our university to a higher standard. We need to demand more transparency from our leadership, and we need to work with faculty to reach our ultimate goal of complete divestment. Schools around the country like the University of California, Georgetown University, and Hampshire College have listened to their students’ complaints; it’s time for NC State to do the same.
Ben Regester is a second-year student in environmental and marine sciences.