New York University’s faculty senate voted Thursday afternoon to recommend that the university “divest” and strip its $3.5 billion endowment of investments of major fossil fuel stocks in order to make a statement about the dangers of global warming.
If the university’s Board of Trustees signs off, NYU will join more than a dozen universities across the country -- from Stanford to Syracuse -- that have responded to pressure from environmental activists and promised to reduce or end their fossil fuel investments.
Some 50 other universities, such as Harvard, Yale, and the University of Colorado, have decided not to do so.
Some, such as Harvard’s president, see divestment as hypocritical because nearly everything students use – from plastic bottles to air conditioning and computers – are the products of fossil fuels.
“We are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day,” Harvard President Drew Faust has explained. “Given our pervasive dependence on these companies for the energy to heat and light our buildings, to fuel our transportation, and to run our computers and appliances, it is hard for me to reconcile that reliance with a refusal to countenance any relationship with these companies through our investments,” she said.
But proponents, who applaud the senate’s vote, say there is no hypocrisy.
“It is not hypocritical to use fossil fuels in order to try to get ourselves off of fossil fuels, particularly since this is simply unavoidable!” David Frank, NYU assistant professor of environmental studies, told FoxNews.com by email earlier this week.
Economists say that divestment will not noticeably hurt oil company stocks because, when a university sells its fossil-fuel stock and the price falls, independent traders see that the stock has become undervalued and snap it up.
But supporters say their goal is simply to send a message.
“The point is not really to devalue the stock, rather to make a statement to those companies, our students, and those who might be paying attention (including you!) that it is prudent to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. It is a tactic, a means of calling attention to the problem,” Frank told FoxNews.com. He added that it’s needed due to a looming danger of climate change.
“The poorest people in the world (particularly in low-lying areas) will suffer the most if we do not take action on climate change… that calls for any tactic that might call attention to the problem,” Frank said.
Experts debate how harmful global warming could be. U.N. models have consistently overestimated the amount of warming in the past, but their current prediction is that the globe will warm between 2.5 to 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century and that warming in that range would cause the world’s GDP to be about 1.1% lower in the year 2100.
The NYU faculty vote came despite a recommendation by an NYU faculty working group studying the issue not to divest for financial reasons.
“In order to eliminate the $139 million in fossil fuel investments, NYU would have to [end] relationships with 39 funds… this [is] not financially prudent,” the report concluded.
At a college that charges $66,000 a year in tuition, some students are also upset about the financial impact on the college.
“This is about making a feel-good statement. But the university is the one that has to pay for it. This would mean forgoing millions in funding for scholarships and facilities,” NYU junior Eli Nachmany told FoxNews.com earlier this week.