University of Wisconsin-Madison Faculty for Divestment
An Open Letter from the University of Wisconsin Faculty and Staff to the UW Foundation: The Urgent Threat of Climate Change and Our Financial and Professional Obligation to Act.
We address you as individuals and members of the education and research community here at the University of Wisconsin Madison. There is a scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is occurring, and that this will have dire consequences if allowed to go unchecked. Current scientific knowledge is authoritatively summarized in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) released in 2014.
Therefore, we have an obligation to engage with this issue in new ways. In response to a motion to divest from fossil fuels, the U.W. Madison Faculty Senate established the Ad Hoc Committee on Fossil Fuel Use and Climate Change in 2013. This Committee accepted the reality of climate change, acknowledged the dire consequences it entails, and discussed the University’s place in adapting and mitigating to the problem. The Committee highlighted the steps the University has taken on the issue, such as the implementation of the Facilities Planning and Management Plan to improve building efficiency, and retrofitting the Charter Street Power Station to use natural gas rather than coal. The Committee encouraged the University to continue to “get its house in order” in terms of mitigation and adaptation, research, and advocacy, but did not recommend divestment from fossil fuels. The signatories of this open letter disagree with this stance, and would call on the Faculty Senate, Chancellor, Regents, and governing board of the U.W. Foundation to consider divesting from fossil fuels, especially coal and tar sands.
We are concerned about the current, and future financial viability of the fossil fuel industry.  The Economist Intelligence Unit, International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions warn of a “carbon bubble,” in which continued investment in fossil fuel companies will result in trillions of dollars of lost capital.  We consider divestment to be fiducially responsible.
Therefore, the signees of this open letter call upon the board of the UW Foundation to freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and within five years to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds. We further call upon the UW Foundation to develop new investment strategies that prioritize renewable energy sources and clean technologies; which are already financially competitive with fossil fuels.
There is an inherent contradiction between the University’s mission statement : The primary purpose of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is to “…discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all,” and the UW Foundation’s continued investment in fossil fuel companies.
The signatories of this letter acknowledge, and commend, the University for the steps it has already taken to address climate change. We encourage the continued implementation of efficient and sustainable technologies and practices by everyone in the campus community. Furthermore, we understand divestment is not a “silver bullet” to climate change, but one solution to a multifaceted problem. It is a necessary financial and professional step the UW Foundation must take to comply with the mission statement of the University whose funds it manages, and its donors, to whom it fiducially responsible to.
*All signatories are listed here as individual citizens, expressing their constitutionally-protected freedom of speech. Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only, and do not connote endorsement by those units.
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