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What low oil prices mean for divestment

By Sustainability Office on February 9, 2015

By Allison Shafritz ’15 (Environmental Economics and Geography Double Major from Middletown, NJ)

With interest in fossil fuel divestment growing on Colgate’s campus and Global Divestment Day right around the corner (February 13th and 14th), what better time to rethink divestment in the context of the current economy?

A recent article in The Economist states that “the fall in the price of oil and gas provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix bad energy policies.” The price of oil has been cut in half over the past six months, and the price of natural gas is at an all-time low. With falling oil and gas prices and rising global support for divestment, we are uniquely situated to make big changes. Now is the time to act on climate through divestment.

Low oil prices can mean a few different things for the divestment movement. On the one hand, low prices are a reminder that oil is volatile and therefore a risky investment. Low prices are also bad news for high cost oil production projects, such as deep-water drilling and tar sands. On the other hand, however, low oil prices do not exactly incentivize people to act sustainably; for example, consumers are generally more willing to fill their gas tanks more often when prices are low. While low oil prices are not necessarily beneficial for the divestment campaign, the good news is that a drop in oil prices ultimately poses a risk for investors. Therefore, divestment is the most responsible course of action.

The divestment movement at Colgate began a few years ago and is starting to gain traction among the student body. The Colgate community has a responsibility to adhere to the Thirteen Goals of a Colgate Education and to our 2019 pledge for carbon neutrality. In keeping with these goals, the university’s endowment should not be invested in industries that contribute to an unsustainable planet. Institutions of higher education can (and should) play an important role in advancing sustainability, which means blazing the trail for divestment campaigns around the world. To date, hundreds of universities, cities, towns, religious institutions, and foundations have committed to divestment. As a leading institution of higher learning, Colgate should focus more energy towards divestment.

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