Divesting Small Vs. Large Endowments from Fossil Fuels

I recently had the opportunity to give a talk with Stephen Mulkey here in Maine. Dr. Mulkey is the President of Unity College in Maine, the first college to divest from fossil fuels and a leader in sustainable education.

Unity’s endowment is about $13 million. Now compare that to Harvard’s, which is $30. 7 billion. Harvard alone has ~$30 million in direct holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies–more than twice the size of Unity’s endowment.

At first glance, it may seem a small endowment divesting does not support the case for larger endowments to divest. They’re smaller, easier to manage, simpler to divest, etc…, so it doesn’t boost the economic arguments for larger endowments.

But Dr. Mulkey made a very important point: since Unity’s endowment is smaller, the school has much more to lose from from divesting. Their act of divestment shows that it can be done in a financially prudent way that does not inhibit the ability of the college to function. It strengthens the case for larger institutions, like Harvard, to divest, because it shows that the effects are minimal and manageable.

After all, Harvard lost nearly 30% of its endowment during the recession. Signs are showing that divesting from fossil fuels would have little to no effect on the endowment–so what are we waiting for?

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