This post originally appeared on We Are Power Shift. Find out more about the 2013 Power Shift Conference and youth climate convergence at their website.
There’s an impressive array of folks gathering in Minnesota right now for this weekend’s Extreme Energy Extraction Summit. They’re activists, organizers, movers and shakers of all stripes — many of them from communities on the frontlines — gathering to build a united front against the harmful impacts of extreme fossil fuel extraction. This a snapshot of the movement. Participants represent diverse organizations across sectors, seeking climate justice, community health, and real solutions for a just and sustainable energy future. Among those represented, the Expedition Education Institute is preparing for an epic road trip that will connect student climate leaders with extreme energy issues and organizers on the ground.
The Expedition Education Institute is partnering with Unity College in collaboration with Catskill Mountainkeeper to launch a ten-day climate leadership immersion trip, culminating with the 2013 Power Shift conference in Pittsburgh. Participants in the Extreme Energy Immersion will visit frontline communities living with and organizing around issues of hydrofracking, mountaintop removal coal mining, and fossil fuel divestment. Guided by experienced faculty facilitators, student climate leaders will see firsthand the impacts of extreme energy extraction while working together to strengthen their own leadership and climate advocacy efforts.
We seek 18 outstanding college students committed to developing their climate leadership in a dedicated learning community on the road to Power Shift. If you’ve got what it takes to get on the bus, learn more and APPLY HERE by 5pm, September 23rd.
Additional information on our chief partners:
- The Expedition Education Institute (EEI) offers semester-long undergraduate travel programs within North America, using the regions they visit in their retrofitted school bus as their living laboratory. Students gain an intrinsic understanding of complex issues through interactions with regional leaders, writers, scientists, business representatives, activists, educators and community leaders. EEI takes students out of the classroom and into the heart of the issues to build strength-based ecological leadership for the next generation.
- Unity College in Maine is an environmental liberal arts college with a focus on sustainability science to address the pressing climate and environmental problems of the 21st Century. The first college to commit to fossil fuel divestment, Unity is a recognized leader in student engagement for sustainability and a frequent collaborator with leading youth climate organizations. Unity representatives have attended major recent national climate campaign events and in 2010 teamed up with Bill McKibben and 350.org for a Solar Road Trip to the White House, calling on the Obama administration to take bold climate action.
Filed under: divestment, Extreme Energy Immersion, Tar Sands Action | Tagged: #GetOnTheBus, #PowerShift, Catskill Mountainkeeper, EEI, Expedition Education Institute, Extreme Energy Immersion, fossil fuel divestment, Get On the Bus, hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, power shift, Power Shift 2013, Unity College | 1 Comment »
The fall 2013 issue of our Unity Magazine focuses on Unity’s leadership in the divestment movement from a wide range of perspectives. The magazine includes articles from guest writers Bill McKibben of 350.org and Dan Apfel of the Responsible Endowments Coalition. Read on.
Filed under: climate science, divestment | Tagged: #DivestmentIsDoable, #GoFossilFree, 350.org, Bill McKibben, Dan Apfel, Divest, Divestment, Responsible Endowments Coalition, Unity College, Unity Magazine | Leave a comment »
We’ve gotten a lot of deserved attention for our recent fossil fuel divestment announcement. By now there are nearly three hundred (and climbing) divestment campaigns – mostly student-led – at colleges all over the country. The aim, as you no doubt know by now, is to keep our endowment money from supporting the fossil fuel industry through stock purchases or other financial investment. As a college fully dedicated to sustainability science education that meets climate change head on, our Board of Trustees and administration have asserted that we cannot directly support an industry that has as its core business model, the destruction of the planet. You can read all about the decision to divest on Unity’s website. But let’s explore below what this actually means for the College.
Endowment Basics: Stewardship of the endowment is a primary function of the College’s Board of Trustees; they make sure it’s invested wisely to support the central aim of the institution in perpetuity – namely, providing an education for our students. We don’t spend the endowment directly on operations at the College. Rather, we invest the money in stocks and funds, and use the profitable return on those investments to offset operating expenses. A big chunk of those expenses for us – more than $4 million – is direct financial aid for students. With our 2011 endowment gift of $10 million, we expect about half a million dollars of income from investment profits per year. So essentially, we’re investing our endowment to help pay for our students’ education.
College Finances: It may be helpful to think about Unity’s annual budget picture more broadly. Consider the revenue side (see figure below): tuition and fees, auxiliary enterprises (e.g., bookstore and dining sales), grants, gifts, and endowment investment income (green at the top) amount to about $18 million a year. As mentioned, we give more than $4 million of that in financial aid to students (black at the bottom), bringing our net revenue down to roughly $14 million annually. Over the last few years, we’ve spent just about that amount to run the school – the expense side: instruction, student services, institutional support/administration, facilities/physical plant, debt payments, and additional scholarships, etc.. $14 million in, $14 million out, a balanced budget.
Endowment practices impact revenue. The more money we can make off of our endowment investments, the bigger the endowment draw we can add into our annual operating budget on the revenue side – adding more to the top (green) to offset what we give back to students in institutional aid. As with many small private schools, Unity is a tuition-driven college, and the bulk of our annual operating budget comes from tuition and fees with only a small fraction coming from investment revenue. As you might imagine, colleges and universities with greater percentages of their revenue coming from endowment draw might find challenges to their traditional investment practices unsettling. After all, these Board and Foundation stewards have been doing their best to maximize return and reduce risk for their institutions – often relying on a presumed sure bet: fossil fuel investments.
Divestment at Unity: About five years ago, our Board of Trustees made a concerted effort with our investment manager to move away from what they called “big energy” investments, citing Unity’s focus on environmental and sustainability programming and an interest in pursuing clean energy investments. At the time, an estimated 10% of Unity’s endowment was invested in fossil fuels. By 2012, only 2.5% of the investment portfolio was supporting the fossil fuel industry. When we caught wind of last fall’s Do the Math Tour and related divestment campaign, we knew we had already done most of the math. A review of our current holdings against the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s list of 200 companies with the greatest fossil fuel reserves mapped out a clear path to minimize portfolio exposure to fossil fuels: avoid investments in those 200 companies, and shift exchange traded funds (ETFs) where possible to non-energy sectors. Debbie Cronin, Unity’s VP for Finance & Administration, explains:
Investments in emerging international countries cannot be moved specifically out of fossil fuels, as there are no sector-specific ETFs at this time. Thus, the endowment target is <1%, not 0, as the emerging international sector needs some fossil fuel tolerance.
The loudest recent objection to college and university divestment is a concern that moving funds from fossil fuels will negatively impact endowment returns. Unity’s experience drawing down investments in “big energy” over the last many years suggests otherwise; even through the market downturn, our returns tracked with market benchmarks. The recent Aperio Group study, “Do the Investment Math,” demonstrates that the impact on returns from screening out fossil fuels is minimal, and the risk – though higher than conventional investment – is much lower than commonly asserted by divestment skeptics.
We’re fortunate at Unity College to have a Board of Trustees committed to the sustainability mission of the college. And Cronin points out that having a flexible, proactive fund manager is key to a successful divestment effort.
For more on fossil fuel divestment and Unity’s leadership on the issue, join Sustainability Director, Jesse Pyles, and representatives from 350.org and the Responsible Endowments Coalition on February 26th for the upcoming AASHE Webinar, “Investment and Divestment: Making Sustainable Choices with Campus Endowments.”