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Posted in Op-Ed, Opinion

The Dominoes Are Falling: Managers Agree to Discuss Divestment as Response to Climate Change

By
December 12, 2012

Last Friday, December 7th, a committee of the Board of Managers decided to consider divestment as one possible action that the College can take to address climate change.

Members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice met with President Chopp, Maurice Eldridge, and five members of the Board of Managers to continue dialogue about divestment and to make progress toward an ultimate decision. The Managers recognized Mountain Justice’s impressive efforts and acknowledged that the Board needed to address the issue of divestment more seriously. With the recent New York Times article, a growing national movement for divestment, and an upcoming student divestment conference next semester, Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s campaign for fossil fuel divestment warranted formal discussion.

The Managers suggested that the Social Responsibility Committee of the Board should tackle the issue of climate change. In a meeting later that day, the Social Responsibility Committee decided that they would investigate ways that the College could make an impact on climate change, which will include consideration of divestment among other actions. This committee will begin meeting in February of next year and will present recommendations to the Board in May.

With these future meetings still months away, Swarthmore Mountain Justice is excited by the Board’s formal focus on climate change and a discussion of divestment, having advocated for as much student involvement in this committee as possible. Given the growing urgency of climate injustice due to thirty years of societal inaction, we fully expect a recommendation for divestment at the May meeting

However, as this process goes forward, we will not stand idly by. Swarthmore Mountain Justice and student, faculty and alumni allies will continue to work on building the divestment campaign on campus. As the Board deliberates on the issue of divestment, we need members of the community to lend their voices and support. At this critical time in the fossil fuel divestment movement, it is more important than ever that our allies are becoming engaged and vocal.

And it isn’t hard to find examples of this engagement. At the same time that Board Members were meeting with members of MJ, a crowd of students, faculty, community members and reporters filled the foyer beneath Parrish’s double staircase to witness a creative direct action: a chain of dominoes cascading down the stairs, symbolizing the chain reaction that will lead from fossil fuel divestment to climate justice.

The purpose of the action was to communicate how Mountain Justice’s strategy of fossil fuel divestment will lead to a healthier and more just world. Divestment, when done in conjunction with hundreds of other schools and pension funds, has the potential to delegitimize fossil fuel companies in the social and political realm. If a mass of institutions publicly divest from fossil fuels, they show that it is unacceptable to support this industry. Divestment also provides a concrete goal through which stakeholders from across the climate justice movement can create alliances and coalitions. Social movements must give people an empowering entry-point through which to act, and for many of us, a direct entry-point is where our colleges, our churches, and our pension funds invest their money. This energy can build into a lasting and powerful movement to push for legislation that would shift our energy economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources.

More than anything, fossil fuel divestment is about sending a clear, loud message. Swarthmore may already advocate for sustainability and climate action, but our investments say otherwise. Through divestment, Swarthmore denounces the fossil fuel industry, and it communicates that message to potential students, to peer institutions, and to the country. Swarthmore can put its money where its mouth is, strengthening its commitment to social justice.

Swarthmore can say, “Enough is enough. For too long our governments have failed to enact legislation that would cull our dependence on fossil fuels. For too long we’ve been supporting an industry that worsens global inequality and accelerates climate change. We call on others to join us in divesting from the fossil fuel industry, and we call on our governments to stand up to climate injustice and make real change happen.”

Mountain Justice believes that this kind of Swarthmore is possible. We believe in a Swarthmore that recognizes that change often comes not from those who hold official power, but from those who are denied it.

We invite all those who share this vision to join with us in calling for a serious consideration of fossil fuel divestment.

4 Responses to The Dominoes Are Falling: Managers Agree to Discuss Divestment as Response to Climate Change

  1. Maurice G. Eldridge Reply

    December 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Having been present at the meeting over lunch with five students and several members of the Board of Managers, I must say that I came away with a different understanding of its conclusion. It was the sense of that conversation that as we move ahead to find effective action to change the behaviors of the fossil fuel industry, we would not take discussion of divestment off the table. At the same time, we agreed, and later the Social Responsibility Committee agreed, that an ad hoc subcommittee would be formed to explore the ways in which Swarthmore might take the lead among colleges and universities to find ways we might employ to effect the necessary policy change and government action to change those industry behaviors. The idea of a “teach-in” or conference of higher education institutions designed by the College might be convened to consider all of the alternatives and to take particular note of the fact that what affected change in South Africa and in the tobacco industry was government action which included economic pressure through, in the latter instance, greater regulation and higher taxes on the product. Many believe that change will come to the fuel industry when governments institute a carbon tax.

    Many of those present at the meetings also believe that empowering our students and community to seek changes in government policy and practice will be more effective in the long run. Taxing the industry aggressively, pursuing meaningful policy change, and, with the revenue raised, targeting research and development of renewable energy, provides a more holistic approach to overcoming the threat of climate change. It would also be possible for students on this campus and others along with members of the community to organize political action campaigns that could include marches on Washington, petitions and letters to members of Congress and the like. Marshaling the forces of public opinion will require collaborative efforts on many fronts.
    Maurice G. Eldridge ’61

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  2. Benjamin Bernard-Herman '14 Reply

    December 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Maurice,

    I was also present at both the lunch and the Social Responsibility Committee Meeting. While I am a member of both Mountain Justice and the Committee for Social Responsibility, I do not claim to represent either group.

    My understanding of the conclusions of those two meetings is that both the impressions you mention and the impressions that Mountain Justice mentions in the op-ed are correct. You say that “the Social Responsibility Committee agreed that an ad-hoc subcommittee would be formed to explore the ways in which Swarthmore might take the lead among colleges and universities to find ways we might employ to effect the necessary policy change and government action to change those industry behaviors,” while Mountain Justice says that “a committee of the Board of Managers decided to consider divestment as one possible action that the College can take to address climate change.” These two statements are not contradictory; rather, they are complementary. The sub-committee is tasked with considering a wide suite of possible actions, many of which you mention and were discussed in the lunch and the Social Responsibility Committee meeting last Friday. Although you do not mention it, divestment is another recommendation that the Social Responsibility Committee explicitly agreed to discuss on the subcommittee. My understanding of the op-ed is that Mountain Justice is emphasizing that the committee will consider divestment – among other actions – as a step Swarthmore could take to combat climate change. For these reasons, I believe that the difference between the perspective taken in your response and in the Mountain Justice op-ed is merely one of emphasis, rather than one of substantive policy difference.

    Benjamin Bernard-Herman ’14

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  3. Ali Reply

    December 13, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Note: I am a member of MJ, but am speaking as an individual member of the group, not for the group as a whole.

    To Maurice, regarding your last statement that “Marshalling the forces of public opinion will require collaborative efforts on many fronts”: I agree with you completely. Defeating the fossil fuel industry will require “collaborate efforts on many fronts.” What are these fronts? Well, political action is necessary. It would also be great if Swarthmore wanted to shape public discourse with a big teach-in. But one of the “fronts” you mention is divestment. Divestment works as part of a larger movement using an array of tactics to confront the fossil fuel industry–tactics like legislation, teach-ins, direct action, organizing in frontline communities, etc. Divestment is not the be-all end-all solution, but it’s an integral part of that movement. I’m excited at the thought that we can work together to find the perfect combination of strategies and tactics to create climate justice, sustainable communities, and an end to the fossil fuel industry, and I’m thrilled that the college claims that it will seriously engage with the possibility of divesting. I’m counting on the Board, and the recently formed ad-hoc subcommittee, to decide to divest come the May meeting.

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  4. moneymoneymoney Reply

    January 6, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    MJ: Might you consider the costs (indeed, if any) to endowment growth?

    As a young alumnus, I want to know that the money I give grows as effectively as possible. If it grows less effectively following divestment, does MJ care? If it does, what should be done to ensure the college continues to be a leader among LACs, as, in part, facilitated by its strong endowment?

    Moreover, might MJ allow alumni to give gifts to a fund that does _not_ divest? Might all gifts enter a fund of divestment unless noted otherwise? If not, I imagine it’s possible for alumni to give money to the college that restricts how it can be used, an effective loophole.

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