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Barnard fossil fuel task force to offer definitive divestment recommendation in November

Barnard’s Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment is conducting an in-depth economic and social analysis report on possible ways in which the college can divest from fossil fuels. When it submits its report to the board of trustees’ Committee on Investments next month, it will do so with a definitive recommendation on which path the college should take.

Possible recommendations from the task force include no divestment, investment in a sustainability fund, divestment from coal, divestment from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science, or divestment from all fossil fuel companies.

At an open meeting with members of the task force and students on Wednesday, Barnard Chief Operating Officer and Chair of the task force Rob Goldberg said the group hopes to reach a consensus over the next few weeks in order to offer unanimous support for one of the proposed recommendations. Should an agreement not be reached, the task force will still share its majority opinion with the board of trustees.

“These aren't especially dramatic, other than the fact that there is a range of them starting from the status quo, which is sort of nothing, all the way to full divestment—and there are gradations in between,” Goldberg said.

[RELATED: Barnard's fossil fuel divestment decision likely to be more symbolic than financial]

The task force was first voted into existence by the board of trustees last December following calls for the college to divest from fossil fuels from student activist group Divest Barnard. Composed of Barnard College trustees, faculty members, and students, the group—which officially began meeting in February—is responsible for analyzing and compiling a report of what the social and economic impacts of fossil fuel divestment would be for Barnard.

The report, along with a formal recommendation from the task force, will be submitted to the board of trustees’ Committee on Investments next month. The COI will then be responsible for reporting these findings to the full board of trustees at their next meeting in December. The board will then officially vote on the matter of divestment from fossil fuels at their following meeting in March.

At present, Barnard’s endowment—which totalled $286.6 million as of June 30—is invested in a commingled fund with 13 other institutions through the firm Investure, LLC. Approximately six percent of Barnard’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels, according to Goldberg.  

Goldberg said that if the board ultimately votes to divest from fossil fuels, the process would not be immediate. Barnard would have to work with an endowment manager to liquidate or spend investments associated with the fossil fuel industry, especially given that some investments with long termination rates could take years for the college to withdraw from.

“This is not going to be sort of a light switch where we recommend divestment, and then it just happens,” Goldberg said.

But task force member Christine Pries, BC ’17, said that even if the board were to vote not to divest from fossil fuels, she believes that the college’s efforts to examine divestment will still leave an impact on the college.

Pries said that as part of the task force’s report, Barnard recently hired an energy consulting company, Gotham 360, in order to conduct a comprehensive carbon footprint analysis of the college. With this baseline of Barnard’s environmental impact, Pries said she hopes the college can determine “specific measurable and achievable goals” for the future.

“One very important thing that has come out of this group is just the realization that true action toward goals is really hard to achieve,” Pries said. “We need the buy-in from everyone in the student community—it needs to come from the institutional level, but also the individual level, all of us buying in.”

“This is definitely going to be a conversation that continues above and beyond the specific work of the divestment task force,” she added. “The climate crisis is a huge thing, and we just don't see this as a time to be shortsighted.”

aubri.juhasz@columbiaspectator.com | @AubriRuth

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