From foreign conflict to inadequate healthcare to domestic militarized, racist policing, the government controlled by Donald Trump and the Republican Party has exacerbated existing problems, leaving widespread suffering and even death in its wake. But perhaps the issue around which the most devastating effects are being produced is climate change. As a result of reckless federal policies, there is an increasingly high potential that more people will not only feel climate change’s effects now, but will continue to starve, be displaced, and die for centuries to come.
Even under President Obama, the transition away from fossil fuels, which is necessary to prevent devastating temperature increases and increasingly frequent and extreme natural disasters, was weak. But under Trump, concern for the future of the planet has been replaced by concern for the profit of fossil fuel corporations. If the public could not rely on Obama to effectively prevent climate change, it certainly cannot rely on Trump.
Now is the time to take matters into our own hands. We must make climate change an issue that the government cannot ignore, make fossil fuel companies a problem that the public cannot ignore, and destabilize the industry that makes profits while it poisons oppressed communities and causes global damage that will last for generations to come. On campus, that means that we must divest from fossil fuels.
Divestment is one of the most powerful tactics we as college students possess to undermine the industries that carelessly cause climate change. Executives will not halt extraction of the product upon which their companies are based. Further, when the government does not act to restrict these corporations and instead seeks to deregulate them, it falls to the public to delegitimize the fossil fuel industry and make climate change a defining moral issue. To do this, hundreds of institutions have taken a stand through divestment, sending a clear and powerful message to businesses, governments, and other institutions that the fossil fuel companies are part of a rogue industry that has no place in a just future or within our institutions. The fossil fuel industry has recognized that this message poses a threat to them and has actively tried to stifle the divestment movement through public relations campaigns and legal action. As the campus that began the fossil fuel divestment movement, we at Swarthmore have the power to send a bold message on where we stand as an institution in this time of a climate change denialist government. This message will help to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and push it further towards unacceptability in the mainstream.
However, despite our considerable position of power and influence and the size of our $1.9 billion endowment, Swarthmore’s Board of Managers has consistently refused to divest. Now, when the Republican-controlled government is threatening our futures and millions of lives, it is our duty as students to unequivocally tell them that they must divest and reject their deadly neutrality. To give students a chance to send this message, Mountain Justice has organized the first referendum in the campaign’s history through the Student Government Organization. Students can vote online at http://bit.ly/DivestSwat on Monday, Feb. 20, and Tuesday, Feb. 21 to call on the board to partially divest.
While full divestment would be the most powerful action in the struggle for climate justice, the partial divestment proposal this referendum advocates for gives the board no excuse to avoid listening to our demands. It has three parts. The first is divestment from separately managed funds, which are essentially customizable funds, and makes divestment as simple as asking our managers to stop investing in the Carbon Underground list of the 200 largest coal, oil, and gas companies. As Christopher Niemczewski, chair of the board’s investment committee, said in the college’s Spring 2015 Bulletin, the college has separately managed funds so that “it is easy for a client to come to the investment manager with specific needs or requests, such as for a fossil-free portfolio.” The second part is asking commingled fund managers, under whom our investments are pooled with other institutions’ that already have fossil fuel free investment options to move our accounts to those divested funds. Since some of these managers do not have that option, our third request is that they move our investments to fossil fuel-free funds when they are available. This partial divestment proposal, developed after meetings with President Smith and Vice President of Finance Greg Brown, avoids the major financial challenges cited by the Board, namely the potential costs of changing managers. Simply put, this gives the board no legitimate financial reasons to avoid divestment.
To pass, the referendum only needs 30 percent of students to vote. Of these 30 percent, a majority of those voting yes or no ― that is, those who do not vote “no preference” ― must vote yes for it to pass. Currently, over 50 percent of students and over 2000 alumni have signed MJ’s petition calling on the board to divest, so there is substantial support for divestment on or off campus. But to show the board that student support is strong enough to support a specific list of demands, we all must vote. Each yes vote is not only a call for the board to finally listen to the voices of students, but also a moral stand taken in favor of pushing the country toward just climate action in a time when the short-term greed of fossil fuel companies directs the climate policies of the government that supposedly represents us.
With our votes, divestment can once again be brought to the forefront of the board’s attention at their February meeting. While the referendum itself cannot force the board to divest, it will present a powerful message that students will not tolerate our institution’s neutrality as climate change causes worldwide suffering and is simultaneously ignored at the highest levels of government. But to send this message for climate justice, we all need to raise our voices and vote for divestment.