BREAKING: Students stage sit-in to demand the Board seriously consider the student referendum on divestment

Just minutes ago, on the first day of the Swarthmore Board of Managers quarterly meeting, 20 Swarthmore students began a sit-in at the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz to demand that he and the Board stop using their blanket rejection of any proposal for fossil fuel divestment. They rejected a student referendum that passed by a landslide not for political or financial reasons, but solely because they believe we should never take any social concerns into consideration when investing our endowment.

We are asking that all Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff who think the Board should fairly consider the divestment referendum to join us in Mark Amstutz’s office on the second floor of Parrish (Parrish 229 West).

We are here to ask Mark Amstutz, Greg Brown, Val Smith, and the Board: do you truly stand behind this policy? While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, these same standards would have prevented us from divesting from the apartheid regime in South Africa, a decision that we hope the entire Swarthmore community is glad the Board made.

The fossil fuel industry poisons marginalized communities and threatens the future of every student, just so they can extract the last bit of profit from their reserves. We want to be able to look back years from now and know that we as students and as an institution took powerful action to stand for climate justice as the fossil fuel industry and Trump administration joined together to prioritize profit over science, communities, and our future.

We want to look back and know that Swarthmore added its voice to an unprecedented coalition of institutions that have divested from fossil fuels, ranging from leading universities like Stanford and Yale, to the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund and the city of Washington D.C., and even including the Rockefeller Family Fund, which was built off the family’s oil fortunes. Already, funds totaling over $5 trillion have been divested from fossil fuels.

Moreover, the Board is also are ignoring a strengthening financial case for fossil fuel divestment. For instance, Yale University partially divested last spring, citing financial risk as the primary reason for divesting. A growing chorus of financial and political leaders, including former Shell Chairman, Mark Moody-Stuart, billionaire investor Tom Steyer, former Vice President Al Gore, and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, have advocated for divestment as a sound financial decision. Even investment bank HSBC, in a report to investors, advised divestment, warning that investors who stay in fossil fuels “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history.’” Even the Board’s own investment expert has endorsed divestment for financial reasons.

This is not the first time that students and faculty have gotten a “no” from the Board. The anti-apartheid divestment campaign spanned eleven long years: eleven years of being ignored, sidestepped, and rejected by the Board. Despite the Board rejecting divestment four times, students and faculty persisted, taking increasingly escalated action, and in 1989 the Board committed to a plan to divest from apartheid in South Africa.
Due to student and faculty efforts, the Board ultimately stood on the right side of history. Now, as the Trump administration partners with the fossil fuel industry to push disastrous climate policies that threaten millions of people and our collective futures, we need our Board to take a stand for justice once again. And we are confident that if we stand together as a community, we will win.

Pledge to Escalate this April

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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.
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1guolW_1RCqoAq1DonOzrAfqHFdfX9WHUqkijzA40ZZw/viewform?c=0&w=1

 

Professor Smithey: Carbon charge no alternative to divestment

by Lee Smithey
This op-ed appeared in The Phoenix Thursday 25 February 2016

This past weekend, the Board of Managers at Swarthmore College approved an internal charge on greenhouse gas emissions. We should mark what appears to be an initial step toward developing a carbon pricing model. However, while welcome, the plan is no alternative to divesting the institution’s $1.9 billion endowment of fossil fuels.

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I have had the privilege of both co-authoring the white paper that underpinned the faculty resolution calling for divestment and joining the working group that developed the proposal for the new carbon charge plan. As I write this column, it is not yet clear to what extent the Board adopted the working group’s proposal, but let’s assume for now that congratulations are in order all around! The plan was designed to collect a fee from each department to begin registering the social cost of each metric ton of carbon (or its equivalent in various gases) that the college emits (limited for the moment to the physical plant, electricity use, and emissions associated with planned construction) in order to fund sustainability projects. It also calls us to bend our intellectual energies toward better understanding the social costs of carbon through our teaching, learning, and research and then apply our growing knowledge to the pricing scheme. Why is all this important? It urges us down the long road of building sustainable infrastructures that will be necessary, if we survive the climate crisis.

However, the carbon charge leaves invisible the role of investment capital in sustaining an industry that is playing a dangerous profit-fueled game with our futures, a game that we underwrite and legitimize with our investments. It leaves unexamined the strange fiction that the only appropriate metric for assessing financial investments is financial return, a position that wouldn’t bear scrutiny in most, if any, Swarthmore classrooms. Yet, it is enshrined in the Board of Managers’ 1991 guideline that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” Do we really believe that our current investments have no impact on social conditions?

Alone, the carbon charge assumes that we, consumers of fossil fuels, are solely responsible for the dilemma in which we find ourselves as a species. Don’t get me wrong, we do bear responsibility, and the new initiative is a step in the right direction. However, we also know that corporations go to great lengths, through marketing and lobbying, to shape the political, social, and economic landscapes in which they operate. Rest assured that while we try to diminish our consumption, fossil fuel companies on the Carbon Underground list will be using our investments to make the task as difficult as possible.

The new carbon charge plan also assumes there is a glide path of declining consumption that can keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (never mind 1.5 degrees). Sustainability initiatives funded by the carbon charge should be undertaken for the long term common good, but to address the climate crisis, they would have been more appropriate thirty years ago, when the public became aware of global warming. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry actively suppressed climate science, we let those decades pass, and we find ourselves in a catastrophically difficult situation.

Now, robust intervention is necessary. The mitigation scenarios that could keep global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius require carbon sequestration technologies that don’t yet exist and a global price on carbon to have been agreed in 2010 … yes, 2010! Consequently, we need direct regulation of the extraction of fossil fuels accompanied by massive support for research and development of alternative energy, humanitarian aid, and preparation for climate impacts in vulnerable areas.

Through divestment, the college can join other institutions and use its privileged status to signal to world leaders that they can and must take bold steps to regulate the extraction of fossil fuels. Millions of vulnerable people are at severe short term risk (estimated by DARA and the Climate Vulnerable Forum at 6 million per year by 2030). Even the college itself is under threat.

Our students have already done the heavy lifting by launching and building an effective global campaign. We know this because our college representatives at the COP21 summit in Paris reported back that UN President Ban Ki Moon cited the importance of the divestment campaign as part of “a rising global tide of support for a strong, universal agreement,” declaring, “All of us have a […] duty to heed those voices.” Faculty, students, many alumni, and at least six distinguished honorary degree recipients understand President Moon’s perspective, and I expect some managers on the board do as well. After all, the optional Green Fund that the board established for new donations signals that the 1991 guideline is not water tight.

For those in civil society with cultural and economic capital, divestment remains an important tool in our toolbox, and we have a responsibility to use it. As we publicly demonstrate to our political leaders how to say no to fossil fuel companies, we should press them for an ambitious global carbon price, restrictions on fossil fuel extraction, and a plan to freeze the development of new reserves.

Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, John Braxton, Lotte Bailyn, Lorene Cary and Barbara Hall Partee Call on Swarthmore’s Board of Managers to Divest

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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.

Sincerely,

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.

With commitment by Board to engage with proposal and faculty resolution of support, MJ ends 32-day sit-in

SIT-IN end meme2From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A 32-day student sit-in at Swarthmore College ended Monday after faculty voted to support the protesters’ demands to divest endowment money out of fossil fuels.

“We are ending after a commitment by the Board of Managers to engage us in the weeks leading up to their decision on divestment on May 1 and 2,” said sophomore Stephen O’Hanlon, an organizer with Swarthmore Mountain Justice, the student group that has pushed for divestment for the last five years. An alumni petition with 1,100 signatures bolstered their demands.

“Swatties,” as Swarthmore students are called, are asking the school’s trustees – known in the college’s Quaker tradition as the Board of Managers – to partially divest the $1.9 billion endowment of oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuel-related companies in a way that would avoid losses in the portfolio.

Over 100 students, such as O’Hanlon and freshman Sophia Zaia, began the sit-in on March 19, sleeping in Parrish Hall and working in shifts.

“So many people worry that there’s nothing one person can do about climate change. I recycle, I dry-line my clothing, but I still felt disempowered,” Zaia said.

“Big institutional change needs to happen, like our divestment from fossil fuels,” she added.

Swarthmore was the birthplace five years ago of the national divestment movement. But the college was slow to consider the possibility at the trustee level.

Between $200 million and $300 million of Swarthmore’s $1.9 billion endowment is invested in separately managed accounts that can be gradually divested, said Giles Kemp, a 1972 alumnus who chairs the board. Those accounts would be the first to divest under the student proposal.

Since Swarthmore birthed the movement, students at other schools such as Yale and Harvard Universities, and Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, plus state schools like the University of Colorado, have begun divestment campaigns as well.

Syracuse University recently divested from fossil fuels completely; Stanford University, from coal companies last year. And the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, heir to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune, last fall said it would no longer invest its $860 million in fossil fuels, the source of the family’s wealth.

Neither Harvard nor Yale has divested and students have been arrested at both schools. By contrast, Swarthmore’s sit-in has been amicable.

A total of 175 students slept and studied in the hallways over a month, with a cooler of donated drinks and cookies nearby. Administrators stepped adroitly around students’ plugged-in cellphones and backpacks full of books and clothes.

“It’s very much a struggle within a family. Swarthmore has a Quaker heritage. It takes social responsibility and ethical intelligence very seriously. Students are living out their education by taking over the building,” said religion professor Mark Wallace.

Swarthmore’s campaign drew a visit from the environmental activist Bill McKibben, who visited the student sit-in on April 8.

McKibben, cofounder of 350.org, wrote an early book on global warming and lends his name to various climate change and divestment protests.

Protests have also begun at Haverford. Students are calling on their board of managers to freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

At Swarthmore, supportive alumni include Avery Rome, a former member of the college’s board.

“It reminds me of the student push to get us out of apartheid-linked companies in South Africa” in the 1980s, she said. “That’s not to say the top deans and Board of Managers aren’t aware. But typically, the big emotional response comes from young people. That pushes the adults over to their side.”

“I’m glad the students are pushing the college. This kind of roiling is typical of the place and good for it as an institution,” Rome added.

Should the board vote down partial divestment, the students will restart the campaign in September, once classes start again.

“We teach the students to be agents of social change. If Swarthmore would divest, it would be the first college in Pennsylvania to do so,” Wallace added.

“If the board does nothing, we’d be prepared to escalate in the fall,” O’Hanlon said.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20150421_Swarthmore_sit-in_ends_with_fossil-fuel_divestment_support.html#6HupkAxyMRFug85K.99

Alumni Deliver 360 pledges not to donate until the Board divests & 1083 petition signatures

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

17 April 2015

Contact: Stephen O’Hanlon, (610) 955-7398, sohanlon22@gmail.com, Swarthmore Mountain Justice

AS STUDENT SIT-IN ENTERS FIFTH WEEK, 360 SWARTHMORE COLLEGE ALUMNI PLEDGE TO WITHHOLD DONATIONS UNTIL THE BOARD DIVESTS FROM FOSSIL FUELS

SWARTHMORE, PA — Yesterday evening morning, Swarthmore Alumni delivered 360 pledges to withhold donations until the Board commits to fossil fuel divestment, along with 1083 petition signatures and over a hundred letters calling for divestment to the alumni office. Dozens of alumni from across the country also sent letters to Investments Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp calling for action on divestment at the May Board meeting.

“We urge the Board to reaffirm the college’s highest purposes and ideals, and in the light of the humanitarian disaster of climate change, that surely requires divestment,” said Peter Meyer, a Swarthmore alumnus from the class of 1965 who delivered the letter.

“This will be the first time in 45 years that I have not made my annual donation to the College, so this was not a decision taken lightly,” said Fran Putnam, a Swarthmore alumna from the class of 1969 on her decision not to donate until the Board commits to divestment.

The sit-in is attracting international attention. Swarthmore alumna, and head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres publicly endorsed the sit-in. Dean Baker, a Swarthmore alumnus and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research also endorsed the campaign Thursday. Over 6,000 people supporters from around the country have called on the the Board to reopen the dialogue on divestment.

This delivery came as Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s sit-in for fossil fuel divestment on the campus that birthed the now global divestment campaign entered its fifth week, making it the longest ever sit-in for fossil fuel divestment. Over 200 have now participated in the sit-in. Since the Swarthmore sit-in began, students around the country have begun sit-ins at Harvard, Tulane, Yale, University of Mary Washington, Bowdoin, UC Berkeley, and CU Boulder.

“This marks a turning point for the climate justice movement because it is the first time students across the country are taking coordinated action for divestment,” said Sara Blazevic, a current senior and sit-in organizer who has helped coordinate the national escalation. “It shows that the movement has found its legs and is more committed and powerful than ever.”

As a result of the sit-in, the Board of Managers announced that they will put fossil fuel divestment on the agenda at the May board meeting. “While this is a major victory for our campaign, we are continuing to sit-in to call for the Board to reopen dialogue with us because we need to ensure that divestment will be seriously considered in May, and that the Board is committed to seizing the historic opportunity that we have before us,” said Erika Weiskopf, a sophomore and sit-in organizer.

Swarthmore Mountain Justice is one of the largest campaigns in the College’s history: 1,200 faculty and alumni, along with 970 students (61% of the student body) have called on the College’s Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels. In consultation with the VP of Finance, Swarthmore Mountain Justice prepared a proposal tailored specifically to our endowment structure for how Swarthmore can fully divest by 2020, the same year that global emissions must peak in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Despite this, the board rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate.

Recently, Swarthmore’s Board of Managers hired investments expert Gregory Kats to advise on sustainability initiatives. Mr. Kats responded with a public call for fossil fuel divestment. The Board should take the recommendation of their own advisor.

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Swarthmore Mountain Justice (swatmj.org) is a student group at Swarthmore College and founded the first fossil fuel divestment campaign. There are now over 500 fossil fuel divestment campaigns worldwide.  Swarthmore Mountain Justice is calling on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in just and sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

Alumni Deliver Petition and Pledge to Alumni Office

Alumni Deliver Petition and Pledge to Alumni Office

350 Swarthmore Alumni Pledge not to donate until the Board commits to fossil fuel divest

Add your name to the pledge and read the Swarthmore Phoenix’s coverage of the announcement below.

No divestment, no donations, some alums say

More than 300 alumni have pledged to withhold donations to the college until the Board of Managers agrees to divest, Mountain Justice announced yesterday.

Stephen O’Hanlon ’17 said that he had been working with a group of alumni since the fall of 2013 to spread awareness about Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign and ensure that alumni voices were heard.

“Alumni’s main link to the college is through official college communication and the alumni bulletin, both of which have not included coverage of pro-divestment perspectives,” O’Hanlon said.

More than 1000 alumni from over 60 different class years have signed Mountain Justice’s petition calling on the Board to divest from fossil fuels.

“The recently begun sit-in shows the students’ commitment to this important cause,” said Fran Putnam ’69, one alumna who has decided not to donate until the college divests.

Putnam was able to attend Swarthmore thanks to a generous scholarship, and, since her graduation, has been a loyal donor to the college each year. Following her 45th reunion in June of 2014, however, Putnam decided to direct her annual donation to the college to Mountain Justice’s Responsible Endowment Fund, where the money will be held until the college divests from a set list of fossil fuel companies. This marked the first time Putnam had ever not made her annual donation, a significant decision.

She emphasized her strong support for students participating in the sit-in who, Putnam believes, are partaking in a lengthy tradition of Swarthmore students leading movements for social justice.

“My concern about global warming is so great that I am taking this step to encourage Swarthmore to divest now, not when all the other colleges have done so,” Putnam said. “Investment in fossil fuels is morally wrong, pure and simple.”

Putnam added that she had also pledged to increase her annual donation if the college chooses to divest, and encouraged other alumni to consider taking similar steps in as public a fashion as possible.

The announcement that more than 300 alumni will withhold donations come as Mountain Justice’s sit-in, which dozens of alumni have joined, stretches into its third week. The second week was marked by a visit from renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben, who joined the sit-in and led a rally for divestment in Upper Tarble, which was attended by more than 150 students.

Numerous other colleges and universities have seen increasing pressure to divest from fossil fuels (more than 300 campuses have divestment groups, and sit-ins have spread to campuses such as Bowdoin College and University of Mary Washington). Hundreds of alumni at Oxford University have similarly pledged to withhold donations until the university divests, and more than 130 professors at New York University called on the school to divest last week. Mountain Justice’s sit-in was just the first in what O’Hanlon said is a wave of historic, coordinated, sustained action by divestment campaigns across the nation. The actions will culminate with Harvard Heat Week this month, in which students will stage a week of action calling on Harvard to divest.

Swarthmore’s sit-in, meanwhile, has received national attention in publications such as the Guardian and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and endorsements not only from McKibben but also from United Nations Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ’79. Figueres recently penned an open letter to Chair of the Board Gil Kemp ’72 and Board Investment Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski ’74, calling on the two to lead the Board in divesting. Kemp and Niemczewski have said that the Board will discuss divestment at its May meeting, as well as a full range of sustainable initiatives surrounding renewable energy, investment strategies, and green building standards.