Opponents of fossil fuel divestment often raise the objection that UH only directly manages 10% of its endowment, with the remaining 90% managed by others under the auspices of the Columbia Investment Management Company. Their contention is thus that Columbia cannot dictate to intermediaries what ethical or environmental goals they should exert in their representation.
This is a dodge. It is well known that investment managers respond to the ethical and environmental sensibilities of their clients. In New York City, home of Wall Street, there are several hundred firms with departments or specialists catering to investors with these kinds of collateral objectives.
If the Columbia Investment Management Company is ignorant of, insensitive or indifferent to the ethical, moral and environmental impacts of the corporations in which it holds shares, then Columbia itself does not deserve to put forth the claim that it is interested in the ethical or sustainability profile of its investments, as such assertions would be tantamount to ethical and environmental greenwashing.
Columbia represents to the world that it is concerned with sustainability through agencies such as:
- The Earth Institute
- Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment
- The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing
If Columbia is truly concerned with the sustainability of its investment activities, then how can it defend being invested in the most pernicious industrial sector, fossil fuel extraction, which is:
- responsible for extracting millions of years of sequestered carbon with little to no accountability for the externalities of their extraction.
- fomenting doubt about about the reality of climate change through a systematic and highly-successful disinformation campaign.
- conducting attacks and smear campaigns against individual climate scientists.
- undermining efforts to restrict its horrific effect on the climate of our planet.
- corrupting the political process with campaign contributions.
- hijacking tax codes by lobbying Washington, armed with two times as many lobbyists as there are members of the House of Representatives, to obtain billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies at the expense of the public.
- creating a non-level playing field for renewable energy sources.
- colluding with media moguls willing to perpetuate lies and fantasies for personal gain.
While there may be no such thing as ‘clean coal’, which is another concoction of PR prowess – tell a lie enough times and people will believe it – there certainly is an opportunity here for Columbia to clean up its act by divesting from coal and the other fossil fuel extraction industries. Our lives, the lives of our children, and all those who will come after us are depending on Columbia to get on the right side of history with this issue.
Come gather ’round people, Wherever you roam, And admit that the waters, Around you have grown, And accept it that soon, You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you is worth savin’, Then you better start swimming’ or you’ll sink like a stone, For the times they are a-changin’.
– Bob Dylan