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Health, Science & Environment

Call for Divestment Progresses -- Too Slowly For Some

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Judy Fahys/KUER
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Phil Johnson, right, finished his term as president of the U's Academic Senate by sharing the organizations recommendations to the Board of Trustees on divestment and sustainable investments.

Climate-change activists scored a moral victory last week when the University of Utah’s Academic Senate voted to shed fossil-fuel investments, but now they’re impatient to see the policy advance.

On Tuesday, the U’s Board of Trustees officially received the Academic Senate’s recommendations. Now the divestment resolution goes to a panel with a mandate to maximize the university’s assets.

Phil Clinger, a U trustee and member of that investment advisory committee, is committed to weighing the broader implications of how the university invests its $1 billion dollar endowment.

“We’ll try and be as careful as we can,” he says. “We will try and do the right thing for the right reasons.”

Geology Professor and Academic Senate President Bill Johnson says the campus is divided on the best way to spur climate change action -- that’s why the vote on the divestment resolution last week was so close. In contrast, there was overwhelming support last week on another resolution, Johnson says, one that calls for environmentally sustainable investing.

“I think that is consensus,” he says. “Divestment isn’t the most productive step. A more productive step is to work in partnership with industry and government to really make some strides towards carbon-emission reduction.”

It will probably take months for the investment committee to review both resolutions, and it’s not clear what direction the U trustees will take.

But Joe Andrade, a retired engineering professor, says there’s no time to waste. He wants more and faster progress.

“The time for long, slow, academic deliberation is over,” he says. “We’ve got a real problem to solve and nobody is addressing it with any urgency.”

Divestment advocates say the university fears blowback from fossil-fuel companies and a Republican-controlled legislature that’s filled with climate-change doubters.

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