Last Spring, 975 students, 96 faculty members and 950 alumni joined Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon in calling on Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels. Just this past month, six noted honorary degree recipients, including Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, Lorene Cary and John Braxton, added their names to the chorus calling on Swarthmore to divest.
Divestment is an urgent and necessary step in delegitimizing the fossil fuel industry and combatting catastrophic climate change. Yet despite a widespread community mandate and the endorsement of international leaders, Swarthmore’s Board chose not to divest last spring. Gil Kemp claimed that the Board was concerned that divesting would harm the college’s endowment, yet prominent financial institutions such as investments bank HSBC have warned that continued investment in fossil fuels actually poses a financial risk to the endowment. Just last month, oil giant ExxonMobil reported its worst quarterly profits in over a decade, and crude oil prices have dropped 70% since 2014. If we honor the agreement set at the Paris Climate Talks of keeping warming below a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the value of fossil fuel stocks will plummet.
Since divestment would not harm the endowment, why does the Board continue to invest in an industry that kills millions of people every year and is actively making our planet uninhabitable? A recent investigation into the personal finances of Board members revealed that three prominent members are connected to companies with a total of 3.6 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry. These conflicts of interest clearly compromise these Board members and their ability to make a good faith decision on divestment. Last month, we demanded that these three Board members, Rhonda Cohen, Samuel Hayes III and Harold Kalkstein, recuse themselves from future discussions on divestment to ensure transparency. The Board has failed to respond.
The staggering human toll that climate change wreaks on frontlines communities around the globe makes this a moral crisis of the highest order. We cannot sit idly by while our institution fails to take meaningful action to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Just as the fossil fuel industry has blocked meaningful progress on combating climate change, these three board members’ ties to the industry block our college from being a global leader.
That’s why we’re asking students, alumni and faculty members to pledge to take escalated action with us this spring. We cannot let the personal financial interests of Board members continue to block meaningful action on the most important global issue of our generation. If you pledge to take nonviolent direct action this April, add your name to this form.
TO: Board of Managers of Swarthmore College
We are writing to you as proud recipients of honorary degrees from Swarthmore College. Whether it was divesting from Apartheid, refusing to bow to McCarthyism, developing leaders in the civil rights and peace movements, or admitting women from its founding, Swarthmore has been a powerful voice for justice at critical moments in history. Right now, we are at one of those points.
Scientists say that we must substantially reduce global carbon emissions within the next several years in order to avoid runaway climate change with devastating effects. While the Paris accords represent a significant step towards the goal of reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the absence of firm commitments by the parties means that we still have a long way to go if we are to prevent the rise in global temperature from reaching 2 degrees Celsius. To keep the increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the Paris accord set as a desired goal, will be even more difficult.
Climate change is without doubt one of the most important moral, economic, and political issues of our time. We call upon you to exercise intellectual and moral leadership by implementing a plan to divest from fossil fuels over the next few years. Hundreds of other institutions including Oxford University, Stanford University, the city of Seattle, multiple Nordic national pension funds, and even the Rockefeller Fund—which was built off the profits of Standard Oil Company—have divested funds totaling $1 trillion. If they can take that stand, surely Swarthmore can also.
None of us can wait for someone else to end the addiction to fossil fuels that is causing the climate chaos that is just beginning. Ending Apartheid required the force of many different streams in the movement. But Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu have stated that one key stream was the delegitimizing of Apartheid that resulted from the divestment campaign. Swarthmore played a significant role in that campaign. It is time for Swarthmore to stand up and do the right thing once again.
Noam Chomsky, John Braxton and Arlie Hochschild
As of February 19t 2016, honorary degree recipients Lorene Cary, Lotte Bailyn and Barbara Hall Partee have signed onto the letter.
In the course of Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s fossil fuel divestment campaign, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about the technical aspects of divestment. Things like…
- What is divestment?
- How will it work at Swarthmore?
- How does divestment bring about political and economic change?
- Will divestment put the college at risk economically?
- What are the similarities and differences between this and past divestment movements?
Come to a panel discussion THIS FRIDAY at 4:30pm to learn the answers to all these questions and more. The panelists are:
Ellen Dorsey — Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund. Dorsey has worked at the nexus of advocacy and academic research to advance the work of NGOs toward human rights and environmental justice. During her time as a student at the University of Pittsburgh, she campaigned for divestment from South African apartheid, and later studied in South Africa as a Fulbright Scholar. A PhD in Political Science, Dorsey has taught at Carnegie Mellon, Chatham, American, and Georgia State. Her most recent publication is New Rights Advocacy: Changing Strategies of Development and Human Rights NGOs, with Paul Nelson, Georgetown University Press, 2008. Prior to her time at Wallace Global, she worked for Amnesty International, developing campaign actions on the global link between human rights and environmental issues.
Dan Apfel — Executive Director, Responsible Endowments Coalition. Apfel has been an advocate for social and environmental issues for nearly ten years, and was an advocate for responsible investment while in college. In his work with REC, Dan interfaces with students at hundreds of colleges and universities, as well as college investment officers and other investment professionals. Prior to joining the REC Dan served as a Program Officer at the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, where he worked with credit unions serving diverse low- and moderate-income communities around the country.
Hannah Jones ’12 — Swarthmore Mountain Justice. Hannah is a Mountain Justice member and a soon-to-graduate senior. She is excited to help Swarthmore move toward true social and environmental responsibility.
The event will be discussion-based, so come with any and all questions about divestment and/or Mountain Justice’s strategy!
On November 7, Mountain Justice hosted a talk by activist Larry Gibson, founder of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. The talk was attended by a standing-room only crowd of approximately 60 people in Bond Hall! The weighty talk reminded us all why we struggle against mountaintop removal and all forms of fossil fuel extraction.
Larry is personally responsible for introducing many MJ members to the devastating effects of mountaintop removal in his home state of West Virginia. Larry spoke movingly for about 45 minutes on his decades experiences as a frontline activist and the absolute necessity for all of us to get involved with the fight against mountaintop removal. He also drew many connections between MTR and Fracking, noting that both extraction methods pollute vast quantities of fresh water. He spoke to the importance of a comprehensive analysis as we struggle for a better world without exploitative extraction, saying, “If we oppose mountaintop removal and ignore everything else, we’ll fight and fight and maybe we’ll even win, but then we’ll look around us and wonder what we were fighting for.”
Larry was joined by Swarthmore alumnus Ken Hechler, Class of 1935, who represented West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 20 years, and has been campaigning against mountaintop removal full-time since 2004.
We hope this is only the first of several events in the “Frontline Series.” Keep your eyes peeled next Spring for more events with activists fighting extraction on the frontlines.