Pitzer College selling fossil fuel stocks in environmental move

Pitzer College, a liberal arts school in Claremont, has joined the vanguard of U.S. campuses deciding to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies as a statement of concern about global warming.

Pitzer’s board of trustees recently voted to approve a divestment plan to sell off about $4.4 million in fossil-fuel related investments, mainly in oil and gas companies, by the end of this year from the school’s $125-million endowment. The remaining $1 million or so in fossil fuels investments, mainly those in large multi-industry funds, will be sold off soon after, officials said. The college also is setting up an investment fund that will focus on environmental sustainability and alternative energy sources.

Pitzer is believed to be the first college in Southern California to join a national campaign to divest from fossil fuel stocks as a result of student activism calling for such change. San Francisco State and two community college districts in Northern California are among about a dozen schools nationwide that are divesting because of concerns that the burning of fossil fuels is causing environmental damage and climate change.

Other schools such as Harvard and the UC system have resisted such steps, saying divestment might hurt their financial returns too much. Oil and gas industry spokesmen have predicted such divestment would reduce funds available for financial aid and faculty appointments.

Pitzer President Laura Skandera Trombley urged other colleges to join the divestment trend. “Come join the party. It’s so much fun to do the right thing,” she said at a weekend event unveiling her school’s decision.  She said it is “not too late to do something” about climate change. “In fact, it’s time to do many somethings.”

Among other steps, the college plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by the end of 2016 with conservation and the use of alternative fuels, she said.

Robert Redford, the actor, film director and environmental activist, also spoke at the presentation and praised the college’s move. Redford, a Pitzer College trustee, said the polarized political situation in Washington is making any social change difficult and that it is up to colleges and other institutions to “move things forward and inject some hope in our society.”

An environmental think tank and nature conservancy at the school was established and named after Redford in 2012.

Donald Gould, the Pitzer College trustee who heads the board’s investment and climate change committees, said Monday that the schools’ leaders studied the possible financial impact of divestment and decided it would be minimal and outweighed by the social and environmental benefits.

“Given that we envision a world that one day is much less dependent on fossil fuels, we did not think it was consistent with our core values to continue to seek to profit from investment in the fossil fuel industry,” said Gould, who heads an asset management firm in Claremont.

Opened in 1964, Pitzer College enrolls about 1,000 students and is part of the seven-institution Claremont Colleges consortium that includes Pomona, Harvey Mudd and others.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

Twitter: @larrygordonlat

 

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