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Investing for a Livable World

by Ronald G. Trimmer, PhD

Many colleges and other institutions have heeded Bill McKibben’s (350.org) call to divest from all fossil fuel investments (503 intuitions, $3.4 Trillion).  Divesting from fossil fuels is a moral statement.  It is about “Creating the political will for a livable World” (Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s motto).  Blackburn students and recent graduates will suffer the consequences if the climate problem is not adequately addressed.  I am a Blackburn graduate (math 1962).  If it is not addressed, run-a-way global warming could be triggered in my lifetime.

I urge Blackburn to take climate change/global warming serious and consider divestment.  To maximize the impact of the divestment, Blackburn must make it clear why it is doing so.  Success is to be measured in what difference we make in reducing green house gases, changing attitudes and opinions, changing behavior, and changing policy.

Bill McKibben did the math (Rolling Stone, August 2nd, 2012) and showed that we need to leave 80% of known fossil fuel known reserves in the ground.  Retaining fossil fuel stock is probably a poor investment because of what is called stranded resources.  McKibben argues for divestment and against stockholder engagement because fossil fuel companies’ business plans are to destroy the planet for profit.

Being a stockholder provides access to company leadership.  Stockholder engagement can be effective but requires lots of passion and time.  Blackburn could create a socially responsible investment committee.  However, if Blackburn lacks the passion and time, I recommend divestment from fossil fuels.  Also, if the companies are unresponsive to stockholder engagement then divestment is called for.

I hold Ameren stock and am a member of the Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (MCRI).  This makes stockholder engagement easier.  Other members of MCRI hold fossil fuel stocks including Peabody and Arch coal.  If Blackburn decides to get involved in stockholder engagement joining MCRI is recommended.  A representative from Blackburn’s investment committee could participate in meetings by phone.  Blackburn is only about 60 miles from St. Louis so they could easily attend annual stockholder meetings and participate in meetings with company leadership at Peabody Headquarters in St. Louis.  From discussions with Peabody and Arch coal and MCRI, I understand that they are still in denial regarding coal’s future but this is starting to change.

I served on the United Church of Christ (UCC) 2013 synod resolution committee calling for divestment or stockholder engagement.  To comply with the resolution, I submitted a stockholder resolution to require Ameren to more fully report on their lobbying especially as it related to climate change.  UCC holds over a half million dollars in Ameren stock and co-filed on the resolution.  They wrote, “Although this country cannot yet do without fossil fuels, we must work urgently to transition away from them and toward cleaner forms of energy.”  Such resolutions typically get 10% of the vote.  Of many similar resolutions, mine was one of the strongest worded and got 41% of the vote, one of the highest votes.  Even if Blackburn divests from fossil fuels, but holds stock in St. Louis based companies like Monsanto, Boeing, or Emerson it could still work with MCRI on their stockholder engagement with them.

Blackburn might consider installing solar.  With state rebates and possible federal tax breaks it is especially a good investment.  Blackburn could qualify for a 40% rebate up to $30,000 under Illinois’ Solar and Wind Energy rebate program in the Public Sector and Non-Profit category.  Once a solar system pays for itself then the electricity it generates is practically free.  It could install the system on buildings with south facing roofs and little shade like Hudson or North.  Ground mounted systems could be installed on the Bretthauer property or north of the athletic fields.  My favorite idea would be to install them on parking lots like car ports and provide charging stations to encourage students, staff, and the college to drive plug in hybrids or electric cars.

I would encourage the Blackburn students and staff to start a chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby at Blackburn.  James Hansen is on the advisory board of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  Dr. Hansen says, “Most impressive is the work of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast growing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group…If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than become an active member of this group (the Citizens’ Climate Lobby).”  Carlinville is in IL-13 congressional district.  I am chair of the Southern Illinois chapter.  We cover IL-12, IL-13, and IL-15.  We could help get you started and help you lobby Representative Rodney Davis who is the IL-13 congress person.   Ronald G. Trimmer, PhD, Blackburn 1962

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