Dr. Jonathan Foley’s thoughts on divestment
August 21, 2015
A number of environmental activists and groups have recently been asking museums—including the Academy—where we stand on fossil fuel divestment. It's an important question and I’d like to share my view.
To me, it seems difficult to reconcile the mission of a public science museum focused on ecology, evolution, and sustainability and the practice of investing in fossil fuels. So many institutions, including universities, NGOs, foundations, churches, and so on, are facing the same issue right now. Should they divest from fossil fuels or not? And, if so, how should they do it?
Well, I believe that we should. I think it's the right thing to do morally, and the right thing to do institutionally. While it may not solve the climate change problem entirely, it is a step in the right direction.
Here at the Academy, we’re committed to ensuring that our investment strategies align with our commitment to global sustainability. So we’ve started to do exactly that. As of this summer, we no longer have any direct investments in fossil fuel companies and we have already begun to phase out all oil, gas, and mineral leases on lands with historic mineral rights given to us by donors. In January of this year, the Academy implemented a new institutional gift policy to ensure contributions are consistent with the Academy’s stated mission, purposes, and priorities. Those were the first steps. And we intend to do more.
The next step is to work on our endowment. But it’s a little complicated. Nearly every investment vehicle out there—whether an endowment fund, a pension fund, or nearly everyone's 401(k) and IRA—is partially invested in fossil fuels, directly or indirectly through index funds, and it can be challenging to sort it all out. The financial world hasn’t figured out a perfect way to do this yet. But I am committed to making improvements in this area.
In the coming months, we are going to work with our Board of Trustees and our financial partners to address this issue and make specific plans for the future.
In the meantime, please know that we are fully committed to our mission to “explore, explain, and sustain life." And let's keep this important conversation going!
Jonathan A. Foley, Ph.D.
William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Chair
California Academy of Sciences