Unity College, a small school in Waldo County with a focus on environmental issues, announced this year that it will pull its investments from the fossil-fuel industry — underscoring that institutions of higher education have a responsibility to address climate change. While college president Stephen Mulkey admitted that it will be difficult to reach "absolute zero," due to the co-mingled nature of many modern mutual funds, the board of trustees is committed to having no direct investment in fossil fuels, and to work with Unity's investment firm to tilt away from those sectors. He recommended other universities explore the same approach.
"Like the colleges and universities of the 1980's that disinvested from apartheid South African interests — and successfully pressured the South African government to dismantle the apartheid system — we must be willing to exclude fossil fuels from our investment portfolios," Mulkey said in a statement. "The colleges and universities of this nation have billions invested in fossil fuels. Like the funding of public campaigns to deny climate change, such investments are fundamentally unethical. The Terrifying Math of the 350.org campaign is based on realistic, reviewed science. Moreover, in our country it is clear that economic pressure gets results where other means fail. If we are to honor our commitment to the future, divestment is not optional."
The "Terrifying Math" he refers to is a reference to Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone magazine manifesto and Do The Math tour (which stopped in Portland this fall), in which the science writer and activist describes "our precarious — our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless — position with three simple numbers." Those three numbers, for those who may be wondering, are: 2 degrees Celsius (the increase in global temperature we can tolerate); 565 gigatons (the amount of carbon dioxide we can spew into the air and still meet the 2-degree target); and 2795 gigatons (the amount of carbon already existing in the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn).
Yes, those numbers are frightening. Which is why McKibben is urging colleges and universities to divest in fossil-fuel industries, so as not to be complicit in the practically inevitable destruction. Unity College seems to be the only higher-ed entity to have answered the call so far, but 2013 should see more move in this direction.
• Train enthusiasts (and there are many in Maine, if Downeaster ridership is any indication) will likely see legislation introduced in the state house next session related to expanding regional passenger rail from Portland, through Yarmouth and New Gloucester, to Auburn. Meanwhile, the Maine Rail Transit Coalition, which is spearheading the movement to revitalize a section of the old Portland-Montreal railroad system (see "Reconnecting Portland and Auburn by Rail," by Deirdre Fulton, August 24), is calling on city and town officials in Lewiston, Auburn, Falmouth, Yarmouth, and New Gloucester-Pownal to support and facilitate the necessary evaluation, funding, and management that the project will require.
MRTC founder Anthony Donovan, a real-estate developer, train enthusiast, and former economic advisor for the city of Portland, has been meeting with towns up and down the corridor to gauge support for the Portland-to-Auburn commuter line. He says people are psyched about the possibility. Now, his coalition (which includes the Maine Sierra Club and the state Department of Transportation) will continue that outreach, in the hopes of demonstrating widespread public support for enhanced transit service.