As of today, about 100 alumni of varying class years have signed the Alumni Petition for Fossil Fuel Divestment. Started by Swarthmore Mountain Justice, a student organization working on ending various forms of fossil fuel extraction, especially mountaintop removal coal mining, the petition aims to persuade the College to divest from the fossil fuel industry, a goal that the group pursued for the last two years.
This is the first time Mountain Justice has reached out to alumni, but they believe that the “Alumni Petition is a simple, but powerful way for Swarthmore alumni to show that they care about how Swarthmore’s endowment is invested, and that they would like to see that money supporting environmentally responsible causes,” said Patrick Walsh ’14, a member of the group. The petition started on September 5 of this year and is still welcoming Swarthmore alumni to sign it.
Swarthmore has invested in a list of “Sordid Sixteen” domestic fossil fuel companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Arch Coal, Halliburton, Patriot Coal and others. “We would like the college to take its money out of sixteen of the worst coal, oil and gas extraction companies,” Walsh said.
“A mass divestment movement can both harm these corporations’ bottom lines, and delegitimize them in the court of public opinion, aiding local communities’ efforts to reclaim their land, health, and economies,” reads the petition.
“As a member of the community, and as a potential donor to the college, I want to make sure that my donation is not getting invested in companies that are poisoning our air and water, fueling climate change, and corrupting our political system,” said Hannah Jones ’12, a former member of Mountain Justice. The petition received positive responses from alumni and many of them have written additional letters of support.
Mountain Justice plans to reach out to alumni who have signed the petition and figure out other ways for them to support this divestment campaign. One possible option, according to Walsh, is “to have interested alumni writing personal letters to President Chopp.”
Jones hopes the petition can demonstrate to the administration that it’s not just students, but a range of people from the Swarthmore community that worry about this issue. “I am hoping that alumni voices will be particularly powerful because it is they that supply much of the money in the first place. They should have a say in how that money is invested,” Jones said.
“The fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on politicians will not yield unless we speak with our dollars,” said Jones. “We have the hottest summer on record, a devastating hurricane, and Greenland is melting away.” However, the presidential race, during which climate change was barely mentioned, makes Jones feel that “nothing will happen to combat climate change in the political sphere unless we demonstrate that we have financial pull.”
The Alumni Petition is just one of the many parts of Mountain Justice’s efforts to encourage the College’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry. There is a student petition, which received over 700 signatures this spring, still open to students. Next Sunday, November 17, the group will be speaking at an event in Philadelphia and Swarthmore students can attend at no cost. At the event, Bill McKibben, an environmentalist, author and journalist, will talk about the environmental movement and the need for colleges like Swarthmore to divest.
The group also brought many powerful voices to campus, including speakers such as the late Larry Gibson, who opposes mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) in Appalachia, and a panel discussion about divestment that included Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, whose mission is to promote socially responsible actions to protect the environment.
Recently, Mountain Justice held a “Speak-Out” rally with other three Swarthmore student organizations: Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine, Swarthmore Labor Action Project, and Swatties for a DREAM. “Students can do a lot to promote divestment,” said Walsh, “One very simple thing students can do is to talk to their friends about fossil fuel divestment, and to spread the word.”
Walsh suggested students can also write letters to President Chopp or members of the Board of Managers and talk to their parents about divestment and encourage them to write letters to the College as well. “If students are uncomfortable with emailing the group as a whole, I encourage people to talk individually to a member of Mountain Justice they know, or if you don’t know any of them, email or talk to me,” said Walsh.
Jones is currently helping other schools in the area start their own divestment campaigns. “The more colleges that join, the more powerful this movement will be,” said Jones, “There are already 50 schools pushing for divestment, and this is just the beginning.”