UNH Should Divest

November 09, 2016
The University of New Hampshire should instruct Prime Buchholz to divest its endowment of the $6 million to $15 million in carbon industry stocks, bonds and investment funds it currently holds. With Donald Trump's Electoral College victory, Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson's appointment as secretary of state, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's appointment as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, we will look to our institutions now more than ever for leadership to help change our destructive carbon culture, keep climate change below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent a perceived need to attempt geoengineering, and to protect exposure from the carbon industry's stranded assets.

For much of human history, man feared, revered and respected nature with mystics using omens, deities and demons to explain their elemental world. Our quest to explain the unknown changed our relationship with the environment after the single deity of the Abrahamic religions told man in the Book of Genesis that we were created in his image to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” with “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” to be ours for the taking. And it was so over the millennia since, with the civilized conquering the pagans, life-giving Mother Nature becoming a mere source of commodities for trade, and the eventual extraction of fossil fuels that when harnessed allowed us to seemingly overcome nature by no longer depending on fire for warmth, water for mills or wind for trade. Today's globalized world is the continuation of this epoch with free trade prioritized over carbon emission reductions and multinational corporations seeking to maximize shareholder profits by exploiting the cheapest labor, easiest energy sources and laxest regulations to fulfill our every materialistic desire. To avoid shifting away from our carbon extraction paradigm, Exxon Mobil, the world's most profitable publicly traded energy company, which has been monetarily benefiting from internal cutting edge climate science for decades, has donated millions towards geoengineering research.

Relying on mankind safely terraforming our only planet to counter climate changes' rising temperatures not only reinforces our self-destructive tendencies, there will be no way to first test the most daring engineering experiment in human history, and it is just as likely to make the Earth less inhabitable than climate alarmists are already predicting. Solar radiation management, the preferred method by mad scientists who have peer reviewed techniques in more than 100 papers, would inject particles like sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space. This is very similar to how sunlight scattering sulfuric acid droplets have blanketed the globe after massive volcanic eruptions causing global temperatures to plummet, droughts and mass starvation. Not only could the blue sky be dimmed and the stars be blocked that our ancestors long used to track migration patterns, harvest crops and find our place in the heavens, this geoengineering method would do nothing to protect ocean life from acidification. Worse, if it was launched from North America or Europe, the ensuing droughts in Africa's and Asia's equatorial regions could reach biblical proportions and any attempt to stop the artificially suppressed temperatures prior to the implementation of still fictional carbon capturing technologies would unleash a cataclysmic heat wave across the earth's surface. Even more frightening, our atmosphere's runaway greenhouse effect would likely have begun before governments, that have initially survived climate change, decide as last-ditch efforts to launch simultaneous, independent, haphazard geoengineering efforts leading to either unknowable planetary reactions or pre-emptive strikes to prevent the adverse effects from one another's diabolical schemes.

Efforts to put Mother Earth on life support may remain science fiction if the carbon bubble bursts due to the planet's larger reserves, of more potent fossil fuels, having already been easily tapped. Carbon resources have plateaued with the industry spending over a trillion dollars annually in global subsidies to use more unconventional, technologically advanced, and far riskier methods to extract from smaller reserves, of less potent fossil fuels, in harder to reach places like the tar sands, Deepwater and Arctic. These vastly more expensive industry assets are in danger of premature write-downs, devaluations, or even becoming liabilities because the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has kept crude prices relatively low, the crude oil market values a barrel's price off the least expensive tap that isn't in production, and energy companies are only valued off the reserves they possess the rights to one-day extract. In addition to these stranded assets, investors are growing concerned over international climate regulations, falling clean energy costs, and the growing movement against new carbon infrastructure projects by ranchers, farmers and activists who are uniting with First Nations that still revere the natural world. Divestment does not affect share prices while corporations remain profitable because other investors will purchase the shares, however the rate that asset managers are divesting some or all carbon industry stocks from the endowments and pension funds of private foundations, businesses and universities has doubled in size over the past 15 months, reaching $5 trillion in portfolio assets to date.

By joining the divestment movement, the University of New Hampshire can help reshape our carbon culture, prevent the need for any ill-fated geoengineering attempts, and protect its endowment. With the leadership from our institutions, far simpler and actually viable climate change solutions that harnesses the natural fluctuations from the sun, wind and oceans are still a possibility in the years ahead.