Money letters: explanation and call for discussion

By Kanayo Onyekwuluje and Pat Walsh

It’s not every day that you get free money in your mailbox!

The ‘gift’ in your mailbox, as well as the letter from the bogus “Committee on Investment Profitability,” may have been confusing at first, but hopefully they were also entertaining.

This week’s gift giving was organized and executed by Swarthmore Mountain Justice (MJ) — a student group formed last year dedicated to stopping mountaintop removal coal mining as well as other forms of environmental harm.

(Allegra Pocinki/The Phoenix)

For MJ, environmental work should operate under principles of coalition-based environmental justice. We understand that environmental harm not only destroys the physical ecosystem, but it also impacts communities and people’s ways of life. We also realize that environmental issues affect people disproportionately. MJ is dedicated to privileging the voices and agendas of affected “frontline” communities, or those more severely affected by environmental harm, often due to factors such as race, class and geographic location.

We recently posed the question amongst ourselves: What is Swarthmore’s role in helping thwart environmental injustice? It made us think — what keeps the global warming machine churning? What else besides the obvious attributions such as personal and collective behavior, consumer choice, energy use, buildings’ carbon footprints and where we get our energy from — we wanted to get even deeper. We realized that climate change is also exceedingly ‘fueled’ by massive economic investments needed to finance projects of extraction and the burning of fossil fuels.

This made us think about Swarthmore’s investments … so, we decided to “follow the money!” Last semester, we inquired about where Swarthmore invests its money, and we’d like to share that information with you. As it turns out, Swarthmore is currently investing in eight fossil fuel companies — including Canadian Natural Resources, Cloud Peak Energy, Concho Resources, Devon Energy, EOG Resources, ExxonMobil, Northern Oil and Gas and Occidental Petroleum Group. These companies commit injustices such as illegally dumping waste in both the U.S. and most recently in South America, evading taxes by keeping them in a tax shelter in overseas accounts and being responsible for deadly natural gas explosions in addition to contributing to climate change. Science on global warming indicates that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground, starting yesterday — however, fossil fuel commodities are supposed to remain economically competitive for a while in comparison to cleaner alternatives. So, how are Swarthmore’s investments part of this story?

By sending the letters in the mailboxes, MJ hoped to start a campus dialogue about the political dimension of our investments. By investing in fossil fuel companies, isn’t our community enabling destructive extraction projects and climate change? And how does this jive with our purported values? We claim to be an institution dedicated to environmental sustainability and social justice. In her inaugural address, President Rebecca Chopp said, “©an there be any doubt that we must do all we can to sustain the beauty of this good earth; together, in this collection, can there be any question that we must care for one another and, equally important, for those who live without our resources?” We are doing some wonderful initiatives on campus to realize those values, but are our values in line with what our investments support off campus?

We as students feel we have not fully realized the potential for investor responsibility and this is an avenue we aim to explore.

Our efforts to be more “green” are completely negated by the stocks that make up our portfolio. Changing the light bulbs in Sharples is a wonderful initiative, and one that Swarthmore should accomplish, but it does not motivate real change on a broader scale. Maybe a look at our investments will present an opportunity for the College to break ground as an institution of higher learning, and further realize our goals of achieving environmental and social justice.

We hope you enjoyed your gift, and we invite the entire campus to join us in this discussion about our investments. If you would like to learn more about MJ, contact the group, or to look at research on climate change, mountaintop removal and other extraction practices, please check out our website: https://sites.google.com/site/swatmountainjustice/home.

Kanayo and Pat can be reach at konyekw1@swarthmore.edu and pwalsh2@swarthmore.edu.

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