Dear President Smith,
Since the founding of Swarthmore in 1864, the college has educated students in terms of global impact and social change. From Helen Magill to Micah White, students have been encouraged to engage in community and speak out against injustice; to become righteous voices in troubling times and recognize the responsibility that such an education endows upon them.
It is only fair that we call on our own leaders to do the same.
Here in Pennsylvania, methane from fracking is polluting our air, oil pipelines are spilling into our water, and rising temperatures endanger the economy and our lives. On the west side of our country, we’re burning, and on the east, we’re drowning. All the while, Swarthmore continues to have an endowment invested in the fossil fuel industries that catalyze this destruction.
In addition, our federal government is recklessly rolling back environmental protections that affect targeted regions and groups of people within the country. Right now, world leaders are gathered in Bonn, Germany, negotiating how to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement after the world’s biggest economy has withdrawn. Across the nation, local leaders, from mayors and governors to college and university presidents like you, are committing to show leadership when our President refuses to.
But we are at a turning point in history, and must make our commitments real by standing up every time that our voice is needed. We write to you, as your students, asking that you choose to stand on the right side by endorsing divestment from fossil fuels.
On November 18th, the Sunrise movement will be hosting ceremonies in Philadelphia and over two dozen other cities across the country, commemorating what we love and have to lose to climate change. We will be building our legacy, and burying a time capsule that will be unearthed in 50 years. It will be a time for mourning, for reckoning, for uniting, and for building our future.
If you meet our request, you are invited to join us on the 18th at the Philadelphia City Hall and contribute your commitment and a letter or item to the time capsule. We have asked our politicians to refuse money from fossil fuel billionaires, commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and halt the construction of dangerous new fossil fuel infrastructure. Swarthmore has committed to be carbon neutral and is growing its sustainability initiatives, but we continue to profit from the fossil fuel industry that we are otherwise trying to stop. Just as we want our political leaders to represent us and reject fossil fuel money, we want our educational leaders to represent us too. If Swarthmore wants to be remembered as a leader on climate, we must divest from the dangerous fossil fuel industry.
Overwhelming majorities of students, faculty, staff and alumni have made clear time and time again how we want to be remembered. We know the Swarthmore we are proud of, and we are committed to forging ahead and building a just and equitable future, where all people have access to clean water and safe homes. We would love nothing more than for you to lead with us, and be remembered as somebody who chose to stand up in the face of corrupt politics and fossil fuel money.
But if you choose to remain silent, we will document that as well. In 2067, when the time capsule is unearthed, Swarthmore has two potential legacies. Students might remember Swarthmore as a leader in the fight against climate change: the birthplace of the fossil fuel divestment movement, supporting necessary measures to move our society away from the coal and gas of yesterday and towards the clean energy economy of tomorrow.
Or, Swarthmore could look back upon 2017 as the year of a lost promise. When local leaders across the world were pledging to take action on climate change, the institution of Swarthmore chose to remain silent in the face of climate devastation.
President Smith, there are two paths in front of you: one where you stand with the fossil fuel billionaires who endanger our health and wellbeing, and another where you stand with the students of Swarthmore who are asking you to be the kind of leader they are taught to be.
This is your chance to choose your climate legacy. You have until November 18.
Gabriel Brossy de Dios, September Porras Payea, and Aru Shiney-Ajay
Members of Sunrise Swarthmore
(Formerly Swarthmore Mountain Justice)