by Mary Schellentrager, Divestment Campaign Coordinator, Energy Action Coalition
Fossil fuel divestment campaigns on over 230 campuses kicked off 2013 with unprecedented energy and power. Our movement's rapid growth has inspired endorsements from university presidents, proposals for pension funds, churches, and cities to divest, and even has the fossil fuel industry on the defensive.
On campuses nationwide, thousands of students have returned from winter break with greater passion and determination to win. They are holding teach-ins, winning endorsements, rallying, and petitioning their Trustees with unparalleled momentum - and the national media is taking notice.
New York Times Features Divestment on the Front Page - Again!
The series, entitled "Is Divestment An Effective Means of Protest," features five opinions on the potential of our divestment movement to combat our global climate crisis.
Swarthmore Mountain Justice member Kate Aranoff makes an impassioned argument that "observers of both the nation’s history and our current political situation know that mass movements and money are what talk in Washington. Divestment activists have the power to mobilize their institutions’ thus-far untapped resources to act alongside those who have fought the fossil fuel industry for generations on the frontlines of extraction and make a statement that will be impossible to ignore."
Bill McKibben's piece states that "as the country’s colleges, cities and denominations begin to cut their ties, we’ll start to revoke the social license" of the fossil fuel industry, one again arguing that "if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from the wreckage."
The three other articles in the series range from critique to cautious endorsement. Professor Christian Parenti restates his highly publicized and rebuked critique that divestment is merely symbolic, two Johns Hopkins University students call for shareholder resolutions as a way to create incremental changes within the industry as an alternative, and human rights lobbyist Cecelie Counts reflects on her work within the divestment movement for South African Liberation and explains to the climate movement that divestment was important but only one weapon in the battle that ended apartheid.
Yes Magazine's Front Page Profile of the Divestment Movement
A Yes Magazine article, written by Swarthmore Mountain Justice member Sachie Hopkins Hayakawa, profiles how the campaign is reinvigorating the national dialogue on climate change and revolutionizing students' understanding of the power they have to address the climate crisis as the biggest challenge our generation faces.
As Hopkins Hayakawa stated in the article, "When I receive my degree in June, I will not be thinking about graduate programs or long-term employment opportunities. I will be thinking about the fact that carbon emissions must begin to decline by 2015, if we hope to prevent a change in global temperatures of more than 2 degrees, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic climate change begins."
She also explained how divestment is the perfect tactic students can use to leverage their collective power in solidarity with frontline communities, explaining that "As other groups organize resistance on the ground, our divestment campaigns can help to erode the reputations of the companies they're fighting."
As Swarthmore Mountain Justice's campaign continues to recieve high-profile national attention, an article in their campus paper The Phoenix reports that the "administration has not seriously considered Mountain Justice’s suggestions thus far" despite two years of working with the administration and demonstrating widespread student, faculty, and alumni support.
The article reports that campaign organizers "Marco Covarrubias and Dinah Dewald both expressed frustration with the lack of progres s that has been made in the past couple years of discussion with Swarthmore’s Board of Social Responsibility" and pledged that Mountain Justice will keep advocating for divestment until Swarthmore divests their holdings in The Sordid 16, a list of sixteen of the worst fossil fuel companies.
“We’re aware that people have been running [climate legislation] campaigns for years and haven’t gotten the government to do anything about these methods that are really harming the community,” Covarrubias said. “We feel that we have a lot of power, given that we go to a school with a huge endowment, and we want to use that power to make a difference.”
Next step for Swarthmore MJ is hosting the Power Up! Student Divestment Convergence on February 22-24, when 170 students reprepresenting more than 70 campuses will come together to learn how to run a strategic divestment campaign, how to build power by engaging in the national movement, and how to ensure campaigns organize in solidarity with local frontline communities.
Georgetown University is featured in a prominent Campus Progress story about their recently-launched campaign. The article features an action where students postered campus with banners reading "Divest From Fosil Fuels." To inaugurate their campaign, Fossil Free Georgetown delivered a letter, endorsed by a broad coalition of 20 campus organizations including the College Republicans, to President John DeGioia urging the university to divest now. DeGioia was out of town but his secretary accepted the proposal and pledged to pass it along once he returns to campus. The letter stated,
"Today, President DeGioia, our university is presented with a choice. We can either take immediate and direct action to halt the widespread misery global warming and its related catastrophes are sure to cause, or we can stand by in the name of financial profit and watch our cities flood, droughts ravage our crops, and billions of people be displaced by climate-related disasters. Neutrality is not an option. We urge you and all other members of the administration to open a dialogue with us and the Board of Trustees as to how we may make the divestment process work for everyone, but please know that we will not simply fall silent if not engaged by your office. We implore you to help us in our campaign, so the Georgetown community can help the world."
“If we could actually get these places to put their money where their mouth is and show that they’re committed to stopping climate change…it would really be a major asset for the movement as a whole,” Georgetown Divestment organizer Daniel Dylewsky told Campus Progress.
Five students from Tufts University Divest For Our Future met for the first time with their Board of Trustees, presenting their proposal as more than 40 pro-divestment students rallied outside the meeting.
The Campus Progress article profiled Tufts University's meeting with their Board, highlighting that "Trustees revealed to students that nearly five percent the university’s endowment is invested in dirty energy, calling the prospect of divestment a “challenging and difficult” one, but invited students to meet with them again in two weeks."
“We appreciate the administration’s willingness to communicate with us and continue discussion,” said Anna Lello-Smith, a junior at Tufts who was among the group of four students that met with the Board. “At the same time, there is very little time left to combat the climate crisis. We hope the Board understands the urgency of the problem and acts with similar urgency themselves.”
The Tufts Daily reported that student organizer Emily Edgerly promised that “no matter what the board says, we are going to continue to organize, we are going to continue to gain student power on campus, we are going to increase our visibility and we are going to show the board that we are not going to stop this fight."
Last week, Middlebury College Divestment Campaign students convened a panel of venture capitalists, money managers, Bill McKibben of 350.org, and one Middlebury student to explore the possibility of divesting from fossil fuels. At the end of the semester President Ronald Liebowitz announced a formal process to consider divestment, writing, “I, along with my administrative colleagues and fellow board members, look forward to engaging the community on an issue of great interest and import to the College and its many constituents.”
The Student Government Association of Middlebury conducted a survey before the panel discussion that found that 63 percent of students are in favor of divestment with only 14 percent opposed.
Watch the video of McKibben's speech:
In the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) newspaper The 'Cac, an article compares "the enthusiastic progress at Middlebury" with the "active opposition faced by the Bowdoin campaign and the so-far non-response of the Williams administration."
On Friday, members of Divest Harvard met with the Board of Trustees to advocate for fossil fuel divestment from their $32 billion dollar endowment, the largest in higher education worldwide. Student leaders Hannah Borowsky, Chloe Maxim, and Ben Franta reported, "we were honored to represent Divest Harvard as we made the case for divestment at our first meeting with Harvard trustees. After 72% of undergraduates showed their support for divestment on the undergraduate referendum, our group was granted a meeting with the Harvard Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility. Dozens of students lined the hallway as the trustees arrived, showing that Harvard students care about climate change and support the University in its first official conversation about fossil fuel divestment."
Harvard activist Chloe Maxim also authored a piece on divestment in The Nation titled "Why Divestment is Changing the Climate Movement." The article explores how divestment has escalated the movement, because it identifes the fossil fuel industry as the party responsible for government inaction and unites all people in challenging corporate power and free market mythology. In it she states that "the divestment movement has enabled students and citizens around the country to realize that it is time to take a stand together on climate change. It’s opened people’s eyes to the illegitimacy of the opposition’s power. And most importantly, it’s provided a concrete strategy that doesn’t ask individuals to place their faith in institutions that they do not trust."
University of New Hampshire
Last week UNH Student Environmental Action Network organized a teach-in attended by over 100 students that featured Joe Keefe, President and Chief Executive Officer of Pax World Management LLC, Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, Better Futures Project Organizer Shea Reister, and divestment student organizers from Harvard, Bowdoin, Ithaca College, and UVM.
The event was followed by a photo-petition where students pledged their support of the campaign.
On Friday, four undergrad representatives from Fossil Free Yale made a powerful case to the Yale University Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) that investing in fossil fuels is unethical and urged Yale to invest for the future of the students it educates instead of in dirty fossil fuels of the past.
Students followed up the presentation with a Teach-In on Divestment attended by over 100 students this past weekend that featured videos from Desmond Tutu, South African Anti-Apartheid activist; Naomi Klein, economic justice activist; Kumi Nadioo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace; Josh Fox, anti-fracking activist and director of Gasland; and Bill McKibben of 350.org.
Student capaigners won Student Government endorsement last week as the USG voted in support of a resolution for fossil fuel divestment. Entitled Implementing the Northwestern Strategic Plan: Establishing Northwestern as a Global Leader in Environmental and Financial Sustainability, the proposal is nonbinding but will be passed up to the administration and Board of Trustees. The proposal was put forward by a five campus groups in coalition with more than 70 campus organizations and faculty members as co-sponsoring signatories! Check out the resolution on the resource page of Go Fossil Free.
Sewanee: The University of the South
The Sewanee Coalition for Responsible Investment also achieved victory in its student government this week, as a proposal brought forth by the coalition was approved by the Sewanee Student Government Association.
Student organizer Jordan Long recently wrote an article reflecting on her upbringing in post-apartheid South Africa and why the national climate divestment movement is so meaningful for her. "This kinship between the two movements, ending apartheid and ending fossil fuel dependence, was obvious to me. It was what motivated me to help start the Sewanee Coalition for Responsible Investment at the end of last year....When I think of what ended apartheid, I do not think of dollar signs and profits lost, I think of the faces and the words that brought a people to their feet again. I think of two men who inspired our country to be better, and moved a generation of people across the world to stand for a better future. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the thousands of others who sacrificed everything for equality."
Buzzfeed profiled Brown University's Coal Divestment Campaign in a recent article about how President Obama's renewed commitment to combatting climate change is inspiring young people to take action nationwide.
University of California at Berkeley
The Buzfeed article also reported on the efforts of Berkeley's divestment campaign to garner widespread student support and students' interest has swelled alongside the growth of the national movement.
A front-page article in the Daily Cal featured campaign organizer Katie Hoffman, who stated "As the No. 1 public university in the world, we have the honor and the responsibility to lead the struggle to advance climate justice and promote mission-aligned investment that generates social, environmental and economically sustainable returns.”
College of the Atlantic
In the past week, students at College of the Atlantic have rallied 75% of the campus to sign their petition, met with the President of the College, talked with the College's money managers, and sent 5 representatives of the campaign to present to the Investment Committee to the Trustees. Student organizer Lucas Burdick wrote that "One of the money managers in their report said that while it would be adverse to the College’s portfolio to divest, 'it’d just take a phone call to make the switch, if that was what the College wanted to do.'"
University of North Carolina
The UNC Coal Divestment Campaign made headway last week as the referendum they proposed for the university's student ballot was approved. This upcoming week they are co-hosting a teach-in with the Campus Y, who chose tho endorse and highlight Beyond Coal's campaign this semester. Voting on the student referendum will take place February 12 - best of luck Tar Heels!
Fossil Fuel Haverford kicked off their campaign with a teach-in last week that was attended by more than 40 students. The event explained to students how the endowment works and delved into how divestment can work in solidarity with environmental justice movements. Ian Oxenham explained how climate change is a broader social justice and human rights issue because "the global poor tend to live in the places most likely to be hit the hardest, and by virtue of being poor are also the must vulnerable and have the least capability to adapt....Climate change poses significant social justice problems within the borders of countries like the United States” as well as in the Global South.
Later that week, campaign representatives met with administrators who revealed that 4% of the university's $400 million endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies. Associate Vice President of Finance and Director of Investments Michael Casel defended the college's sustainability standing by highlighting on-campus greening efforts. He downplayed the ability of our movement to make an impact, telling the campus paper that “so long as there is demand for energy, there will likely be sufficient profits to sustain a robust fossil fuel industry, regardless of who might own the stock of various companies.”
Haverford is part of the "Tri-Co" partnership alongside Bryn Mawr College and Swarthmore College. Divestment, pioneered by Swarthmore's Mountain Justice, is the first campaign effort to be active at all three Tri-Co schools. Both Bryn Mawr and Haverford students will present the case for divestment at their Board of Trustee meetings this upcoming week.
Students with Fossil Free American University hosted their Spring Kickoff Meeting last week, building on the enthusiasm of more than 50 people who attended the last meeting of the group in December.
Students at Ohio University hosted the first meeting of their divestment campaign last week, where students gathered to plan for Fossil Fuel Free OU's upcoming semester. Next on their schedule is co-hosting a Climate Reality discussion with faculty allies that explores the question: what does climate change really mean for the future of life on earth?
Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University student organizers Alex Kaufman and Maddy Salzman published an article last week "Demystifying Divestment," introducing the campaign to their fellow students and addressing the common arguments being leveraged against the movement. In it they explain,
“By limiting access to capital, divestment makes it more expensive for the fossil fuel industry to undertake new production and provides a financial incentive for companies to shift toward environmentally friendly operations. Large, influential institutions like Washington University have the potential to use their financial clout to combat climate change and provide incentives for responsible corporate behavior. When public institutions divest, other institutions follow, sending a strong signal to the government about public priorities. The fundamental point behind the divestment movement is that, when people and institutions around the country speak with their wallets, politicians and business owners start to listen.”
Bowdoin Climate Action shows solidarity with Tar Sands Reistance - students are busy recruiting and planning for Bill McKibben to lead a divestment teach-in on campus next weekend.