The students at the University of Delaware with Fossil Free UD delivered the below open letter to their President in response to Sea Level Rise Awareness Week in DE calling on the President and the Board of Trustees to take immediate action on divestment:

Dear President Harker,

Climate change is accelerating. In this last year alone our country experienced record-breaking heat, droughts, and hurricanes, which impacted hundreds of thousands of people and cost our country hundreds of billions of dollars. Hurricane Sandy alone caused more than $50bn in damages. Experts agree that climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels will continue to accelerate and intensify these tragic climate disasters.

At only 60 feet above sea level, Delaware has the lowest average elevation of any state, making its 381 miles of shoreline especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. Gov. Jack Markell recently ordered a new, long-term push to prepare Delaware for the local effects of global climate change and sea level rise, as he joined with environmental organizations to announce the kick-off of Delaware’s first Sea Level Rise Awareness Week1, Sept. 14 – 22. In view of this, we are proud of the fact that our university has taken a leadership role in sustainability, by focusing on becoming “The Green University” as part of our “Path to Prominence”. However, we find it contradictory that University of Delaware invests its endowment in the fossil fuel industry. There are several negative implications of the university’s implicit support to the fossil fuel industry, which encompass the economic, moral and social justice spheres.

Divesting from fossil fuel companies carries very low risk to the portfolio and hedges against the foreseeable decline in the fossil fuel industry known as the « Carbon Bubble ». If we are to limit temperature rise to 2oC, which is the internationally accepted limit on temperature rise, 60 to 80% of fossil fuel reserves cannot be extracted and burned for profit2. These are then are considered stranded assets, which severely inflates the value of the companies’ stock. Hence, long-term investments in the fossil fuel industry will likely prove to be bad investments.

Efforts to transition away from fossil fuels have been hindered by the industry’s money, political influence, and tacit acceptance from institutions like ours. This is where University of Delaware can play a role by publicly ending its investments in fossil fuels. A mass divestment movement can both harm these corporations’ bottom lines, and delegitimize them in the court of public opinion, aiding the transition to a sustainable future. University of Delaware can truly “Dare to be First” by being the first university among the top 100 universities with the largest endowment to divest from fossil fuels. In doing so, it would provide a strong impetus to the growing movement of divestment, which currently comprises of 6 colleges and universities, 18 cities, and numerous other institutions.

Accordingly in May 2013, the Student Government Association at the University of Delaware passed a proposal that “strongly encourages” the University of Delaware to divest from fossil fuels. On the occasion of Sea Level Rise Awareness Week, we call on University of Delaware to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

Sincerely yours,

Gautam Agrawal, Rebecca Bronstein, Lauren Winstel, Ariel Schwalb, James Collins, Megan Mauger, Linda Grand