Alumni Update — Where We Stand, September 2012

by Pat Walsh ’14


For alumni who are just joining us, we’d like to introduce ourselves. We’re current students at Swarthmore College. We’re all members of Mountain Justice, a student group dedicated to ending mountaintop removal coal mining as well as other forms of fossil fuel extraction. For the past year and a half, we’ve been busy with an activist campaign based on Swarthmore’s campus.

We oppose fossil fuel industries for several, overlapping reasons: The extraction and burning of fossil fuels pollutes the environment and propagates climate change. Extraction poisons drinking water, harms local economies, and generally creates unsafe living conditions for people who live nearby. Furthermore, the people most affected by fossil fuel extraction are predominantly people of color and the economically disadvantaged. The extraction and burning of fossil fuels are clearly social justice issues.

Across the country, communities that face fossil fuel companies have been working to educate themselves and resist these injustices. At Swarthmore, however, we aren’t physically confronted with the noise, pollution, and destruction of extraction. In an effort to work with those local communities that fight back, we decided to leverage the power of Swarthmore’s endowment against the fossil fuel industry. After inquiring about the specifics of Swarthmore’s investments and being denied that answer, we publicly launched our divestment campaign.

We researched divestment, its feasibility, and previous uses of divestment in social justice movements. We communicated with organizations like the Responsible Endowments Coalition, which provide advice and guidance to students working with their schools for more socially responsible endowments. We contacted other schools that have similar fossil fuel divestment campaigns currently happening. We motivated students on our campus with rallies, information, speakers, and a petition that received 700 student signatures.

We asked that Swarthmore divest its endowment from 16 of the worst fossil fuel companies. In spring of this year, we met with both President Chopp and the Social Responsibility Committee of the Board of Managers to describe our divestment proposal and ask for their support. They listened to our proposal but declined to consider divestment as an option.

In researching divestment campaigns in the past, we’ve realized that successful campaigns don’t happen overnight. We have to build a lot of support and educate more people, including faculty, alumni, and prospective students. We know that fossil fuel extraction and climate change are crises that demand action. It’s our job to convince the Board of Managers that divestment is an action worth taking. Join us in making this happen.