Barnard College to divest from 'climate deniers'

The Barnard College Board of Trustees voted to divest stock holdings in fossil fuel companies that “deny climate change,” but has yet to actually define “climate deniers.”

The move comes after years of activism by the student group Divest Barnard, which initially campaigned for Barnard to divest entirely from fossil fuel investments, according to The Columbia Spectator.

Yet the college will not be divesting from fossil fuels in the traditional sense.

Instead, it will take an approach that no other college has taken before, divesting from companies that “deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.”

The strategy was among five options outlined in a December report from the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment, which was created last year in response to student agitation on the matter. The task force explored alternatives ranging from maintaining the status quo to full divestment, but devoted the most attention to its plan for divesting specifically from “climate deniers.”

[RELATED: REPORT: Divestment about politics, not environment]

“In particular, the task force has proposed that the college adopt a divestment strategy that is focused on the principle of scientific integrity, a fundamental component of Barnard’s academic mission,” three professors who served on the task force assert in an op-ed for the Spectator, arguing that “our approach shines a light on science and evidence at a time when the truth of even the most obvious facts is routinely contested.”

They contend that full divestment was rejected because the task force “firmly believed” that divestment from climate change deniers was “a better alternative,” adding that other colleges have demurred on full divestment on that grounds that it is not “linked to their core mission” of “truth.”

Neither the task force nor the Board has officially defined the term “climate change deniers,” however, leaving the job to interim president Rob Goldberg, who also served as chair of the task force.

Once a definition is in place, administrators will examine companies that potentially fit the criteria and work to ensure that Barnard’s endowment does not hold investments in them.

[RELATED: Students ask UMN to divest from companies it doesn't invest in]

Barsa Bimal Kant, a Barnard alumna who graduated last year, told Campus Reform that she is very supportive of the move to divest from climate change deniers, saying it is not only an educational issue, but a matter of social justice.

“It gives me immense pleasure that I have been part of such an institution that thinks ethically. It might not be a giant step in the right direction but it is definitely a symbolic action to combat climate crisis,” she told Campus Reform. "As an educational institution, it is institution’s responsibility not to invest in companies that deny climate change because these companies also deliberately create doubts about climate science and such actions are antithetical in nature."

Kant asserted that fighting climate change is particularly important for people of marginalized backgrounds, saying, “Climate change is a problem that is intersectional in nature” because “poor, minority, and black communities are affected the hardest” by global warming.

Divest Barnard, the activist group behind the push for divestment, applauded the decision heartily on its Facebook page, even inviting supporters to a celebration toast featuring apple juice in place of champagne.

The group also issued a lengthy press release to boast of its victory, but did not respond to repeated requests from Campus Reform for comment.

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