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Students urge Yale to divest from fossil fuels, Puerto Rico debt

December 8, 2018

New Haven — It took Alexander Rodriguez two weeks to contact his mother and grandmother after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico last year.

“They were victims of a climate change disaster,” he said, calling them lucky for getting home to Connecticut after a month while “there are still people in Puerto Rico without electricity and without clean water.”

Rodriguez, an activist with Chispa — a Latino community organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters — charged up a crowd of more than 100 Yale University students braving the biting cold Friday to protest the school’s investments in the fossil fuel industry and Puerto Rico debt holdings.

“This is so pivotal,” he said. “If we don’t keep pushing for a 100-percent renewably run economy that’s equitable to communities of color and low-income people, then we’re leaving our most vulnerable behind.”

Organized by Fossil Free Yale, Despierta Boricua (Yale’s Puerto Rican student association), and other school and New Haven groups, the rally saw students march through campus to the school’s investment office, where dozens of students held a sit-in. Police arrested more than 50 students.

While Yale is a leading university on climate change research and activism, students have pushed the administration for several years to eliminate any fossil fuel investments from the school’s 78 million stake in Colorado-based natural gas producer Antero Resources. The Yale Daily News recently reported the school invested as much as 600 million more invested in the fossil fuel industry.

At least three of Yale’s investment managers have holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt: Baupost, Fortress Investment Group, and Carmel Asset Management, according to Martin Man of Fossil Free Yale. The protesters called on the university to cancel any Puerto Rico debt, particularly as Puerto Ricans are suffering in the aftermath of Maria.

“It’s direct hypocrisy to teach us social justice and to fund climate change research directly with profits from the fossil fuel industry and Puerto Rican debt,” Man said in an interview Friday.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the university does not disclose investments. He noted that “the members of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility include faculty, students, staff and alumni.”

Conroy also pointed to Yale’s more than 50-year history of addressing the ethical responsibilities of investors.

In 2014, the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility decided to address the fossil fuel investment issue through shareholder engagement rather than divestment.

According to the school’s ethical investment policy, the Investments Office asked Yale’s Endowment managers not to invest “in companies that refuse to acknowledge the social and financial costs of climate change and that fail to take economically sensible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

On Puerto Rico’s debt, the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility concluded in January “that divestment from Puerto Rican debt is not warranted when an investor is abiding by the applicable legal framework in a process in which the debtor’s interests are appropriately represented.”

According to records made available on the school’s ethics website, ACIR Chair Jonathan Macey has pointed out that there have been no allegations of unethical debt collection efforts or practices with regard to Puerto Rico. Macey also has noted that investment managers have fiduciary duties to investors likely preventing them from unilaterally forgiving Puerto Rico’s debt.

Robert Dubrow, a longtime faculty member in the Yale School of Public Health, said divestment by one of the most premier universities in the world be a “powerful moral statement that would reverberate worldwide.”

“The world needs to go on a crash diet to get off of carbon,” he said to cheers. “The physics of climate change demand we end this force feeding of carbon by the fossil fuel industry and break the stranglehold on climate policy. It’s not OK to be complicit in this force feeding.”

b.kail@theday.com

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