Discussions about energy use are a lot like nutrition conversations. Both are often about changing our habits. And if they aren’t working for us, we usually change routines in order to achieve a better outcome.
Whether we’re trying to cut out fossil fuels or carbs, it’s always worth asking whether dramatic changes are really in our best interests.
Divestment at UBC
Earlier this year, faculty at the University of British Columbia (UBC) voted to divest the university’s investment portfolio of any fossil-fuel-based holdings. As we’ve discussed in a previous OSQAR post, similar divestment campaigns have been debated across North America, with varying results. (Stanford University voted in favour of divestment, Harvard University voted it down and Oxford University delayed its decision.)
Werner Antweiler, a professor with UBC’s Saunder School of Business, recently wrote a blog post exploring the implications of fossil fuel divestment for his school’s endowment fund. As he notes, divestment could be difficult to implement at UBC and wouldn’t serve its endowment beneficiaries well.
Like many institutions, UBC’s investments are mostly in pooled equity funds which don’t allow investors to easily and inexpensively refrain from holding shares from companies in specific sectors.
And even if divesting such shares was easier and cheaper, the resulting equity pool would lack the degree of diversification needed for such a large endowment to thrive and grow.
Professor Antweiler also pointed out that UBC, like many universities, already has a responsible investment policy which requires its fund managers to consider social, environmental and governance factors.
A symbolic act
It’s for these reasons and others why Professor Antweiler regards voting for divestment as the energy equivalent of cutting out carbs: an act that’s more symbolic than it is prescriptive.
That isn’t to say that talking about the role of fossil fuels in our energy system at UBC and other campuses isn’t a positive development. Debates among university students and faculty have always been a great way of engaging new voices. And making informed choices about energy is essential for everyone.