Stand in solidarity with the people of Blair, West Virginia who are fighting to save their water, their homes, and their histories from mountaintop removal. Blair was the site of the largest union uprising in our nation’s history, and continues to hold deep significance for the United Mine Workers of America, and of course to the people who still live there. This destruction is unacceptable. Swarthmore must take a stand and end its complicity with environmental injustice!
40 years ago, on February 26, 1972, 125 people died in Logan County, West Virginia when a coal-waste dam collapsed. The resulting flood was the largest in West Virginia history. Appalachian residents fear that the same thing could happen today. Ken Ward Jr. tells the story over at Coal Tattoo.
This op-ed was cross-posted in the Daily Gazette today.
As much of the campus knows, Mountain Justice is working to end Swarthmore’s dirty financial ties with the destructive fossil fuel industry. Through its financial investments, Swarthmore is supporting some of the most destructive extraction companies in the world. For the next two weeks we will be at Sharples circulating a petition calling on Rebecca Chopp to start moving the College toward the process of divestment. We want to show her that students are willing to take a stand against dirty energy companies that are poisoning communities and contributing to global climate change. As we ask for support with the petition, we wanted to address some questions and concerns we’ve heard from students so far in the campaign.
Why doesn’t Mountain Justice propose a shareholder resolution?
Shareholder resolutions are useful in cases where a company can reform its practices, principles, or procedures, but are virtually impossible when the reform undermines the economic purpose of the company in question. In other words, shareholder resolutions can pressure a fossil fuel company to “clean up its act,” but they still allow the company to continue to extract and use fossil fuels. Companies can, and frequently do, throw out shareholder resolutions that are “related to the company’s ordinary business operations.”
Why is divestment the best solution?
As mentioned above, dirty energy is dirty energy, no matter how “cleanly” extracted, and is not sustainable. By withdrawing both ideological and financial support from these companies through divestment, we are sending a clear message that we will not be complicit in irresponsible extractive practices OR the continuation of a destructive dependency on fossil fuels.
In 1986, Swarthmore College ended its complicity in an unjust system by divesting from companies supporting South African apartheid. This nation-wide campaign was hugely successful in working toward the end of the South African apartheid. It is now time for the College to respond to an analogous system of injustice.
Won’t divestment negatively affect the endowment?
Many studies have dispelled the myth that securing a financial bottom line necessitates throwing social and environmental responsibilities out the window. According to Mercer, a vast majority of studies on socially responsible investments show environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors can have a positive impact on portfolio returns.
We understand that this transformation will entail necessary public discussions about the College’s financial transparency and investment strategy, and we want to affirm our own commitment to a healthy endowment and maintenance of Swarthmore’s financial aid. We are ready and willing to do everything necessary to see this process to its completion.
Will this really make a difference?
It’s true, a single campus divestment campaign is not enough. This is why we are working with a national coalition of students from universities around the country who are all pushing for fossil fuel divestment. A single voice is rarely enough to change stayed and corrupt practices, but a concert of voices from institutions of higher learning around the country can make a huge impact, as we have seen with the campaign to divest from South African apartheid. Swarthmore has an amazing opportunity to redefine the role of higher educational institutions and set a bold precedent in the fight for climate justice and the common good.
Why so urgent?
There are people fighting the dirty extraction practices poisoning their communities every day. We couldn’t stay silent and allow Swarthmore to champion struggles for social justice while pouring money into the same companies that are destroying communities all over the country.
We have done a lot of thinking about how we, as Swarthmore students, can best support communities on these front lines of climate change and fossil fuel extraction. While we are not often on those front lines, we can stand in solidarity with those communities and use the power we have. We are members of an institution that controls huge amounts of money. When Swarthmore makes choices to invest in certain industries, it is actively allowing those industries to continue those practices – something that we, as students, can guide to a more just purpose.
By signing our divestment petition, you are showing your support for Rebecca Chopp to move forward with discussions about how to create a truly responsible endowment. We understand that this is a very complicated process. However, we don’t accept its complexity as an excuse for inaction. On the contrary, we look forward to the challenge!
A couple of quick posts today. First is an article about our campaign in the Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online daily paper.
MJ’s founding purpose was to end mountaintop removal coal mining, a destructive method of extracting fuel commonly used in Appalachia. To achieve these ends, MJ has taken two courses of action. First, it has confronted the college’s administration, asking them to stop supporting energy companies, and second, it has reached out to people living and organizing on the front lines of the fight against mountain top removal.
Iris Marie Bloom of Protecting Our Waters has a new post detailing incidences of seizures resulting from the fossil fuel industry. It includes a link to this video, which underscores the fierce urgency of getting this message out:
What are we going to do, wait 30 years until we have the scientific “proof” that shows that the seizures people are describing — the seizure shown on the video — the seizures animals and people are beginning to experience in shale country in Pennsylvania — are in fact related to extreme fossil fuel extraction? We can’t wait. Because the word “seizure” used to crop up in my shale gas drilling research about once a month. And now it’s cropping up daily.
Extraction is a public health emergency. Corporations practicing it are nothing short of criminal. Colleges and universities must cease financing them NOW.
by Blair Halcyon
SWARTHMORE, PA — On campuses across the country, students are writing a new chapter in the youth environmental justice movement. The last five years of student organizing have won huge victories. “Sustainability” is on the tip of every college administrator’s tongue, and 674 institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to long-term carbon neutrality. Colleges have taken real leadership in the fight for climate justice.
If one thing is clear, though, it’s that we haven’t won yet. The United States and other countries continue to block any international progress on confronting climate change. Mountaintop removal coal mining still devastates communities in Appalachia. A misguided push toward fracking is causing deadly water contamination here in Pennsylvania and across America. And, while we had a big victory on the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands oil extraction continues to threaten the health of First Nations peoples and menace the global climate.
This is why a new wave of students is bringing new urgency to the movement. We’re following in the footsteps of our predecessors who fought for carbon neutrality, and bringing an Occupy-inspired awareness that money at the heart of our social and environmental ills. American universities collectively invest over 350 billion dollars. Believe it or not, a lot of that money goes to propping up the dirty, dangerous and outdated fossil fuel industry. Here at Swarthmore, a group of students came together because we just couldn’t sit around and watch this happen. We couldn’t stay silent while our school pours money into companies that are making people sick and destroying the planet. Along with students at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois, and several other schools, we are demanding that our schools divest our money from the fossil fuel industry.
This divestment campaign will be an uphill battle, so entwined are our endowments with fossil fuels. Despite their commitments to sustainability and social justice, Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp and other administrators have learned to think of the college’s investments as entirely unrelated to the values of the institution. They work within a bureaucracy that is structurally resistant to change. And the dominant, outdated and flawed logic of investment finance tells them that any restriction on the college’s investments will result in diminished returns. All of these factors cause them to ignore the contradiction between values and investment practices, or deny they exist.
Fortunately, our position as students, as young people, and as idealists allows us to see the obvious contradiction. Swarthmore’s relationship to its ideals is a tangle of moral knots that needs untying. We refuse to be bogged down by the cynical belief that change is not possible, or the heartless belief that it is not necessary. We negotiate, we organize, we antagonize, we educate, we delve into the tangle because we know we can chart a new course forward for Swarthmore, just as the nationwide fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to chart a new course for our whole society.
We are not willing to settle for a college that exists in moral purgatory. It is not enough to reduce on-campus energy consumption—colleges must prevent their dollars from subsidizing filthy energy companies elsewhere. We need our colleges to confront the contradiction between their investments and their values. Frontline communities—those most impacted by extraction and climate change—demand it. Our personal and institutional commitments to struggle against injustice require it. Lives are at stake every day. Through divestment, colleges can unequivocally proclaim that they stand for sustainability, justice, and human decency.
To learn more about our campaign at Swarthmore or to get involved, email SwarthmoreMJ@gmail.com.
I Love Mountains has an amazing–and sobering–new tool that visualizes the human cost of mountaintop removal. It demonstrates how MTR has done nothing but spread sickness and poverty throughout Appalachia. The interactive tool really speaks for itself, so I won’t add anything more. Spend some time with it here.
How much longer will Swarthmore continue to finance this destruction?