Yesterday afternoon the Board of Managers announced the creation of a Fossil Fuel-Free Fund within the endowment. In an email to the community the Board explained that the “fund’s resources will be invested exclusively in portfolios that are completely fossil fuel free” and will be managed by the investment firm BlackRock Inc. Gil Kemp and Chris Niemczewski, among divestment’s staunchest opponents on campus, launched the fund with their own money. Along with Board member Elizabeth Economy, they have contributed a total of $100,000 to the fund. This shows fossil-free investing is possible and practical for the Swarthmore endowment, as we proposed to the Board last spring in our five-year divestment plan.
For five years, the Board of Managers has refused to follow the mandate from Swarthmore students, faculty and alumni to divest from fossil fuels, claiming that it would lead to risky investments or low returns. Last spring, we collected petition signatures from 63% of the student body and 1200 alumni and passed a faculty resolution by a 10-1 margin. But in just the ten weeks leading to the Paris Climate Talks, 100 institutions divested nearly $1 trillion, bringing the total amount divested from fossil fuels to $3.4 trillion. California’s Senate passed a bill requiring their state pension funds to divest from coal in June, and the University of California followed suit in September, withdrawing $200 million from coal and tar sands.
Universities, churches and pension funds worldwide recognize that fossil fuels are a shaky investment, and that divestment is financially prudent to avoid the risks posed by the ‘carbon bubble,’ which the investment bank HSBC says has led to an overvaluation of fossil fuel shares by up to 60%. They also realize that since the UN Climate Talks have consistently failed to reap solutions at the scale necessary, efforts must be made at every level to combat the climate crisis. It is no longer socially or morally acceptable for any institution to support the fossil fuel industry while climate change kills 400,000 people each year, and especially not an institution such as Swarthmore that claims to be invested in the futures of young people.
For years, the Board has told us fossil-free investing wasn’t feasible. Now, they’ve proven what the community already knows to be true: it is in fact feasible, and that there is nothing stopping them from divesting our entire endowment and revoking our political support from this rogue industry.
For Swarthmore to divest would send a crucial message at a crucial moment. As the college where the movement began, the world is watching us. Because the lives of those living in frontline communities are threatened by climate catastrophe each day, because the nations of the Global South and those who have done the least to contribute to the problem are being hit the hardest and the worst by the crisis, and because all causes are lost on a dying planet, it is morally unacceptable to support the fossil fuel industry in any capacity.
The Fossil Fuel-Free Fund is a first step towards fulfilling our duty as a morally responsible institution, but to fight an issue as far-reaching as the climate crisis, far more must be done. Mountain Justice looks forward to working with the Board to divest the entire endowment from fossil fuels over the coming months.
Edited: 12/8/2015 2PM