No rest until we divest

September 16, 2015 by Alexandra Griffin

Last Thursday, President Falk and the Board of Trustees announced that the College would not divest its $2 billion endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, despite widespread support for fossil fuel divestment from students, faculty, staff and alumni. That same day, the University of California divested its $100 billion fund from coal and tar sands, becoming the latest in a line of universities, cities, churches and other institutions who have committed to some form of divestment from fossil fuels.

That the Board of Trustees’ sustainability plan does not include a commitment to fossil fuel divestment is unacceptable. As an institution of incredible wealth and moral standing, the way the College moves its money in the world matters. If we continue to invest in fossil fuel companies, we continue to perpetuate their destruction and exploitation of people and the planet, from the theft of First Nations land for tar sands drilling in Alberta, Canada, to the dumping of toxic byproducts of oil refining in the South Side of Chicago, to the continued extraction of carbon in the face of climate catastrophe. By divesting, we can help break the chokehold these corporations have on our government and push for meaningful climate legislation. And by reinvesting in the communities at the front lines of climate change and the extractive economy, the College can support a just transition to a sustainable future beyond the immediate campus – and truly put its money where its mouth is.

What the Board of Trustees has chosen to do is to continue to invest in these destructive industries. There was some confusing language around direct holdings in President Falk’s email. To clarify, we have no more direct holdings in fossil fuel companies because we have no direct holdings at all. All of our direct holdings, in fossil fuel companies or elsewhere, were moved to commingled funds – and as far as we know, those commingled funds are still invested in fossil fuels. The new sustainability plan includes some promising initiatives, such as reducing carbon emissions and consumption on campus and investing the endowment in local and regional green energy and carbon reduction projects. It is important that we hold the College to these commitments, but we also must realize that growth and physical expansion of the campus, no matter how green, does not address climate change. At the end of the day, how can we pat ourselves on the back for this greening when the College’s money remains directly tied to the companies that threaten the health of planet? As an institution of higher learning, we should strive to teach through our actions. That the Board of Trustees’ statement on addressing climate change focuses solely on investments on our own campus reinforces a dangerous, pervasive message: that we can spend our way out of this climate crisis without fundamentally altering the political, social and economic systems at the root of the problem.

The trustees’ rejection of divestment comes at an important time. The new sustainability plans will galvanize students to work together to hold the College accountable for its sustainability commitments and to work to improve and expand them. As 551 first-years enter the College and a new year begins, divestment and reinvestment are central to the conversations about the College’s responsibility to invest its endowment responsibly and to stop profiting off of the industries that are causing the climate crisis.

In its statement on the College’s role in addressing climate change, the Board of Trustees has scheduled a campus-wide year of inquiry for the 2016-2017 school year entitled Confronting Climate Change. For all of us, this confrontation must begin now, if it has not already. We must challenge the narrative that climate change is the single most important issue of our time. Climate change is a symptom of a broken, extractive economic system. The fight to stop climate change and transition to renewable energy is no more important than the fights to dismantle white supremacy or the patriarchy; the fights to end colonialism and imperialism; to end ableism, anti-trans violence, heterosexism, and all other forms of oppression.

The students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who signed petitions, painted banners, wrote letters and marched for divestment and climate justice this past year will continue to fight for the College to divest its endowment from fossil fuels and make investments that are both financially sound and help build a more just world. We ask: Williams, will you stand on the right side of history?

Alexandra Griffin ’18 is from Queens, N.Y. She lives in Dodd.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anon September 17, 2015 at 3:30 pm

The sensationalism of the pro-divestment community becomes irritating. I believe that the college’s first obligation is to serving its students. To do that, we need to be financially stable as an institution. Look at our current standing. We don’t have need-blind admission for international students, we still have loans in our financial aid packages (when most of our peer institutions do not), and for our 2,000+ person student body, there is only three crowded dining halls. These are far greater priorities to me than making some statement about climate change that won’t affect any change whatsoever.

The wording of emails like this makes it sound like Williams is on par with Exxon-Mobil in its attacks on the environment. Let’s back up. We have much of our endowment handled by outside firms that invest just some of our money into fossil fuel companies. If we divest, someone else takes our spot. The media won’t care, the fossil fuel companies won’t care, the hedgefunds we leave won’t care, literally the only people who will be happy is the incredibly vocal pro-divestment community, while our college’s finances will suffer and our finances will fall behind our peer institutions further.

I like the energy behind the divestment movement, I just think it’s very misguided and benefits from sensationalism. Like, on the surface, everything about the movement sounds reasonable: let’s not invest in companies that hurt the environment. That’s until you really think about it.

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