Poll shows approval of divestment

Top: Students feel the college is not doing enough to mitigate climate change. Middle: Students support various options to mitigate climate change. Bottom: Students support divestment.--Chris Huffaker/Senior Writer
 Students support divestment.–Chris Huffaker/Senior Writer
Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 15.30.10
Students feel the college is not doing enough to mitigate climate change.
Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 15.30.49
Students support various options to mitigate climate change.

A poll conducted by the Record via email earlier this week showed that a majority of students are planning to vote yes in this week’s student referendum on divestment.

The referendum, which will be part of the College Council elections later this week, asks, “Do you agree that Williams College should divest its endowment from the 200 fossil fuel companies with the most carbon remaining in their reserves?” The measure needs a majority vote with at least one-third of students voting in order to be valid.

Poll respondents were asked how they planned to vote in the referendum, to which 114 students or 57 percent said yes, 46 students or 23 percent said no and 40 students or 20 percent said they were undecided.

The poll was emailed at 1:43 p.m. on Sunday to 500 students randomly selected from the 2205 listed in the first-year facebooks for the classes of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. When the poll was closed at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 200 students had responded, giving it a margin of error of 6.9 percent for a 95 percent level of confidence.

The percentage of students responding, 40 percent, would be enough to make the referendum valid, but it may also be indicative of strong response bias if students strongly in favor of or opposed to divestment were more likely to respond than others.

Students were also asked three other questions about climate change. To the question, “Do you believe in human-caused climate change?” one respondent answered no, four answered that they don’t know and the other 195 answered yes.

To the question, “What do you think of the College’s efforts to mitigate climate change?” A narrow majority, 51 percent, said it is not doing enough. Thirty percent said they were indifferent or didn’t know, while 17 percent and 2 percent said the right amount and too much, respectively.

Finally, students were asked what they would like the College to do to mitigate climate change. This was an open question in which they could check all options that they agreed with. Interestingly, in this section only 108 students said they wanted to see the College “divest from fossil fuels/fossil fuel companies,” which may be explained by the slightly different wording. The most popular option was “Reduce carbon emissions,” which 83 percent of respondents voted for. Twenty-five percent of students supported reducing carbon emissions to zero, with carbon credits if need be, 29 percent supported paying for students to attend protests and take part in other forms of activism, and 67 percent and 58 percent voted to support/strengthen the environmental policy and environmental science programs respectively. Eleven percent of students voted for other and wrote in things like “use its connections to fossil fuel companies/connections to government to force policy change” and “consider how climate change affects communities of color.”

The class breakdown of the poll was fairly even, with 46 voters from the class of 2018, 48 from 2017, 51 from 2016, and 55 from 2015.

After Monday night’s Record-moderated debates, the election will run starting tomorrow afternoon and closing Saturday night.