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Regent's divestment vote fuels controversy

Several of those parties don’t think the Board’s vote serves the best interests of those whom the University serves: its students. This has left some, including Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Abq.), wondering whether University officials have the right priorities in mind.

“I am afraid we did not light the fire that we had hoped,” Ortiz y Pino said. “They didn’t even discuss the issue behind the suggestion to divest: the reality of climate change.”

Instead, he said the issue was viewed by the regents as merely an advocacy concern without tangible consequences, and that it wasn’t enough to change UNM’s investing habits.

Nonetheless, Ortiz y Pino said it is up to UNM to “shake the state out of its denial” when it comes to climate change, something that he said should be held as higher priority than the University’s investment revenue.

“I think it is crucial for UNM to join the other leading universities around the country in divesting from fossil fuels,” he said.

Such institutions that have made commitments to divesting from fossil fuels include Stanford, Syracuse and Georgetown, according to gofossilfree.org.

While the regents’ vote may be seen as a move to safeguard UNM’s investments, data presented by Tom Solomon of 350.org — a global grassroots climate change movement — shows otherwise.

Ortiz y Pino said Solomon’s information suggests that universities that have chosen to divest have not suffered financially as a result. As a matter of fact, it might be a beneficial move for those in charge of finances at campuses nationwide.

“The fossil fuel industry, over the past few years, has earned significantly lower revenue for investors than has practically any other index of investments,” Ortiz y Pino said. “It is a red herring to suggest that there would be any risk for UNM to take this step.”

Data from the UNM Foundation, which handles the University’s investment accounts, also suggest that, despite the controversy, making everybody happy with an affirmative vote to divest probably wouldn’t give way to cracks in University portfolios.

Jennifer Kemp, a spokesperson for the UNM Foundation, said UNM has four direct investments in oil and gas industries, comprising a meager 5 percent of UNM’s portfolio. If the regents’ vote had gone a different way, that 5 percent would have been focused elsewhere.

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“Any reduction in the investment to energy would be reallocated to other sectors,” Kemp said.

Solomon took a different approach, warning the regents of the consequences of their actions and saying they are putting the future of students in jeopardy by continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies.

“The foundation’s investment in companies driving the planet toward climate disaster is immoral, irresponsible and puts them in collusion with those who are robbing UNM’s own students of a livable future,” he said.

Leading scientists have predicted that within 19 years humanity will exhaust its remaining carbon budget, Solomon added.

Bruce Milne, director of UNM’s sustainability studies program, said that despite indirectly contributing to that negative effect on the planet, the University has actually worked to offset that impact for more than 10 years.

“Since 2003 UNM has reduced its carbon footprint by at least 20 percent, mostly by reconfiguring the equipment used for electricity generation, heating and cooling,” he said.

Milne said UNM is one of 685 universities in the country that has a Climate Action Plan, with a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2030, primarily by modernizing buildings to make them more environmentally efficient.

But Milne said the University can help on an even larger scale.

“The University can serve the future of students by preparing them to believe in themselves as leaders in a changing world,” he said.

Milne said that end can be achieved in the classroom by synergizing critical thinking skills with the technical expertise needed to create an innovative world, one with “sustainable cities — or, better yet, regenerative cities.”

David Lynch is the assistant news editor at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at assistant-news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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