Despite a mandate from the Swarthmore Community, today the Board of Managers chose to stand on the wrong side of history and announced it would continue to invest in fossil fuels.
With over two hundred other colleges, foundations, religious institutions, and pension funds including the University of Dayton and Sweden’s $37 billion AP2 Pension Fund, choosing to divest, the message is clear: the fossil fuel industry’s basic business model is incompatible with a stable climate and has no place in a sustainable future. The Swarthmore community has spoken: over 2,000 Swarthmore faculty, students, and alumni, including UN climate chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, have called for fossil fuel divestment. But today, our Board of Managers chose to reconfirm its commitment to an industry that has no place in a sustainable future.
The divestment campaign is one of the largest in the College’s history. More than 60% of the student body and 1100 alumni have signed a petition for divestment. The faculty passed a resolution formally recommending that the Board divest. Over 200 faculty, students, and alumni participated in a 32-day sit-in for fossil fuel divestment that ended in late April — the longest sit-in in the history of the College and the youth climate movement.
The Board says the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” But the Investments Committee, and Chair Chris Niemczewski, have consistently ignored the significant financial risks posed by stranded fossil fuel assets. An unprecedented chorus of financial leaders, ranging from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to billionaire investor Tom Steyer, are sounding the alarm on the risks of unburnable carbon. Former SEC Commissioner under Ronald Reagan, Bevis Longstreth, argues that the top 200 fossil fuel stocks are “severely overpriced in the market” and thus colleges and universities have “a compelling reason on financial grounds alone to divest these holdings before the inevitable correction occurs” and the carbon bubble pops. UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey warns that fossil fuels could become the “sub-prime assets of the future.” UN Climate Chief, and Swarthmore alumna, Christina Figures has called continued investments in fossil fuels a “breach of fiduciary duty” and directly asked Mr. Kemp and Mr. Niemczewski to divest in a letter this past spring.
Despite the Board’s abdication of its fiduciary duties, this has been a historic spring for the climate movement. Our 32 day sit-in catalyzed a wave of escalation across the nation as students push for their colleges to stand on the right side of history and divest from deadly fossil fuel companies that continually endanger our most vulnerable communities and and threaten the liviability of the planet for our generation. Since our sit-in began, students on 12 other campuses have escalated their campaigns with sit-ins modeled after ours and inspired by the incredible actions we have taken together as a community; Syracuse University the Guardian Media Group, and even Prince Charles have taken action to end their investments in fossil fuels and stand up for a just and stable future.
Swarthmore risks being left behind and remembered in history for its failure to take leadership at this critical moment. This crisis is real, in the here and now. Lives are at stake. Our generation’s future is at stake. When 350.org Pacific Islands Coordinator, Koreti Tiumalu, joined our rally to end the sit-in, she talked about island nations in the Pacific that will be totally underwater within 15 years if global warming continues unchecked. As our government and our Board sit idly by, those islands nations are disappearing, crops are turning to desert, the world’s most marginalized communities are being forced out of existence. By refusing to follow the lead of the Swarthmore College community, the Board of Managers are complicit in the destruction of these communities and of our future.
This has been an incredible year of organizing and we will be back in September stronger than ever. Divestment is too important an issue to abandon and the repercussions of staying invested in fossil fuels are too dire to stop fighting. For our allies on the frontlines and for our generation’s future, we have a responsibility to take louder, bolder escalated action next fall.
We know it is only a matter of time before Swarthmore divests. All that remains to be seen is whether Swarthmore is remembered as a leader, or an institution forced by economic and social necessity to follow along.
The Board decided to create a Green Fund, an alternative investment fund within the endowment that does not invest directly in fossil fuel stocks going forward. Alumni can earmark their future contributions for this fund which we expect to have in place later this year. The entire $1.9 billion endowment is still invested in fossil fuels and this fund still has indirect investments in fossil endowment.