How to Completely Change Fossil Fuel Dependency: Swarthmore College
Today’s guest post addresses Swarthmore College’s Divestment. Stephen O’Hanlon is a sophomore at Swarthmore College where he studies Political Science and is core organizer with Swarthmore Mountain Justice‘s fossil fuel divestment campaign. He also enjoys biking, spending time outdoors and reading books about history.
It’s hard to believe that is was just a year ago that I joined Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s fossil fuel divestment campaign.
Our campaign calls on Swarthmore College to divest from the 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves, and reinvest in sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.
What is the Divestment Movement?
Modeled after successful campaigns to divest endowments from tobacco and companies doing business in Apartheid South Africa, the fossil fuel divestment movement aims to stigmatize and attack the fossil fuel industry’s political and social license. Since its inception less than four years ago right here at Swarthmore, the movement has grown to over 600 campaigns around the world.
Over 200 institutions, with holdings well over $100 billion, including Stanford University, two major Swedish and Norwegian pension funds, and even the Rockefeller Foundation (built off the wealth of Standard Oil) divested in 2014. By divesting, these institutions have powerfully affirmed climate science and declared the fossil fuel industry’s business model, which is to burn 5 times more carbon than the UN says is reasonably safe, incompatible with their institutional values.
During this historic year for the movement, we achieved major successes here at Swarthmore.
In September, we brought 200 Swarthmore students to join over 400,000 people for the People’s Climate March in New York, the largest climate mobilization in history. We spent the semester educating the campus, gathering petition signatures, and working with student, faculty, and alumni allies to strengthen our coalition.
In November, Swarthmore’s largest financial advisor, Cambridge Associates announced that they would be willing to actively assist Swarthmore in divesting. The groundbreaking announcement by Cambridge, which manages over 80% of college and university endowments nationwide, means developing a plan for divestment could now begin with just a phone call. Following the announcement, we called on the Board with us to develop a plan for divestment, in consultation with Cambridge, for consideration at the February Board meeting. For years, the Board has argued that they cannot divest because our financial advisors would not accommodate the transition to fossil free investment. That excuse is now gone and we are demanding action.
In December, an incredible semester of organizing on campus culminated with a rally during which over 100 students delivered 800 students’ petition signatures (more than half the campus) to the Board of Managers. Following the announcement by Cambridge and with a majority of students signed on to a petition calling for divestment, there is vanishingly little excuse for the Board of Manager’s continued intransigence on this issue. As a College that professes a deep commitment to social and civic responsibility, it is time they align their investment with their values.
Our successes in 2014 have only deepened our commitment to push our college to take a bold stand on climate. As we begin negotiations with the Board this month, we expect them to respond to the student mandate. Swarthmore’s $1.6 billion endowment is one of our most powerful levers for social change and as the college where this international movement began, Swarthmore divesting can send a powerful political message at a critical time.
However, if our Board refuses to act, hundred of students, faculty, and alumni mobilized in support of divestment are prepared to take bold and escalated action in the coming months. The time for Swarthmore to stand on the right side of history has come.
As our world’s most vulnerable communities face the increasingly deadly impacts of climate change, and our generation looks onto an increasingly perilous future, climate action has never been more urgent. We demand that our institution do everything it can do ensure a just and stable future.