Last semester was huge for the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Swarthmore. In November, Swarthmore’s largest investment consultant, Cambridge Associates, announced that it is willing to actively assist Swarthmore in divesting from fossil fuels, meaning a plan for divestment is now just a phone call away. In December, 100 students delivered a petition to the Board of Managers signed by over 800 students (a majority of the student body!) calling for a commitment to divest. Our message is clear: Swarthmore has a historic opportunity to align our investments with our institutional values, shield our endowment from the carbon bubble, and make a powerful statement on climate ahead of the pivotal UN Climate Conference this fall.
In the three years since it began here at Swarthmore College, the international divestment movement has grown to over 500 campaigns around the world. The movement has assembled a groundbreaking coalition of universities, cities, religious institutions, and world leaders including World Bank President Jim Yong-Kim, U.N climate chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, and U.N General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. The Rockefeller Foundation (built off the wealth of Standard Oil Company), major Swedish and Norwegian pension funds valued at over $100 billion, and Stanford University all made divestment commitments in 2014.
Their message is clear: fossil fuel investments are incompatible with a just and sustainable future. Every year, climate change and our fossil fueled energy infrastructure causes millions of deaths, and the potential damage wrought by unchecked fossil fuel extraction is unthinkable. In this historic context, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make Swarthmore a leader in this international movement and live up to our institutional value of social responsibility by ending investments in deadly fossil fuels and reinvesting in the growing, sustainable economy.
Divestment has put the fossil fuel industry on the defensive, challenging their power and beginning to shift the conversation on climate. The Alberta Oil Magazine warned that “energy executives ignore the [divestment] campaign at their own peril.” The Minerals Council of Australia, a coal industry group, is even attempting to make divestment illegal, claiming that it unduly burdens them because “stigmatization makes it difficult for an industry to engage with its customers, attract employees and more importantly access capital for investment purposes.” NRG, one of the largest electricity companies in the U.S, recently pledged to cut 90% of their carbon emissions by 2050, citing the political pressure from the divestment movement as a significant influence in this decision.
The financial risk posed by unburnable carbon to our endowment’s long-term health is clear. As Bevis Longstreth, who served as commissioner of the SEC under Ronald Reagan, argues, “fiduciaries have a compelling reason, on financial grounds alone, to divest these [fossil fuel] holdings before the inevitable correction occurs.” According to McGraw Hill and Standard and Poors estimates, fossil fuel shares have underperformed the market average by nearly 10 percent over last decade.
And fossil fuel investments are likely to become increasingly bad investments. If the world takes the necessary action to avoid catastrophic climate change (which UN scientists say means warming must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius), fossil fuel companies must leave 60% to 80% of current carbon reserves in the ground, stranding $20 trillion in assets. According to the investment bank HSBC, this would lead to a devaluation of fossil fuel companies by 40% to 60%. Obviously, we do not want to be invested in an industry when it takes that kind of hit. U.K. Energy Secretary Ed Davey warned that fossil fuel stocks could be the “sub-prime assets of the future.” And as UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ‘79 notes, climate science dictates that “we will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide us,” and that continued fossil fuel investments constitute a “blatant breach of fiduciary duty.”
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For the past two years of Annual Giving to Swarthmore, I and my spouse, Denis Newbold ’71, have withheld our yearly giving due to the College’s inaction on precisely this issue, divestment from a particular panel of fossil fuel business entities. We described to each phone-a-thon caller why we were withholding our joint donations. Before that, we had given to the College every year since graduation. I anticipate seeing the College live up to its leadership role for the common good by divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in the well being of us all. Also, I look forward to the opportunity to resume Annual Giving as a Quaker Matchbox family (one daughter, too, is an alumua) .
Gail Newbold ’71
The fact that’s there is even a debate about divestment feels to me the way there is a “debate” about anthropogenic climate change.
Ladulé Lako Losarah ’09
I am withholding my annual contribution until the college has a plan to divest.
Alice Swift ’61
I will not consider donating any money to swarthmore while there is a chance it will be invested in fossil fuels.
Rabi Whitaker ’03
The Board of Managers finds themselves on the wrong side of history and at odds with the ethos of social justice the college claims to embody. Divestment would signal a commitment to sustainability that is fundamental to the health of our planet and our communities.
Sarah Diamond ’13
I will not donate until I am sure my donation will be invested sustainably
Colin Schimmelfing ’10
Now is the time for Swarthmore to divest completely from all fossil fuels. It’s time for Swarthmore to practice what it preaches and no longer benefit financially from companies that are creating the rapid destablization of the climate, on which our lives and all life depends.
Brendan Kelly ’92
Swarthmore has an opportunity to align it’s dollars with it’s values and be a leader here. I hope they see what a key role they can and should play. Money matters and we can send a message stronger than any words or march.
Rebecca Towne ’96
Swarthmore College has been, and should continue to be, a leader in the academic world. As such, decisions about its financial affairs and operations should be based on solid science, ethics, educational practice, and the core values of the institution. That must include recognition of climate science, which has warned us clearly and repeatedly about the dangers of continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Divestment is vital to Swarthmore’s future and to the public interest.
Mark Gromko ’72
It is shocking that Swarthmore College, the birthplace of the college fossil fuel divestment movement, has dragged its feet in taking this important step. My wife and I are putting our college donations into escrow until Swarthmore takes this action.
Spencer Putnam ’67
Divesting of fossil fuels will be a monumental shift for the college, for the entire divestment movement, and for the reclaiming of the world’s energy future and safety by ordinary citizens. This moment in history is as important as the abolition of slavery, the attainment of rights for women, the fall of the Berlin Wall — only more so, because the beneficiaries of clean energy will be every living thing on the planet, including every human being. When the Board of Managers makes this step, I will be enormously proud of the college, and grateful for the societal transition it is supporting. Friends, the moment is surely now.
Judy Asselin ’75
I pledge to increase my gift to $500 for the annual fund donation if Swarthmore takes Cambridge Associates up on their offer.
Quaker matchbox pair Kari Tetzlaff ’95 and Sam Ehrlichman ’95
This is a wonderful opportunity for the College to maintain its commitment of advocacy for justice of all kinds. Taking this action will make me feel that Swarthmore is indeed the institution of which I was so proud to be an alumna!
Judith Fletcher ’72
I was discouraged last June at the statements by the board chair and former president. Working towards a “green” campus and teaching students about energy issues — which they said were both happening — are not enough. Divesting in this responsible way will be important for the college and for the world.
Ann Lesch ’66