Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
1. Climate Change and Fossil Fuel extraction demand social justice.
Climate change and fossil fuel extraction are deeply impacting people’s lives now. Communities across the United States surrounded by fracking sites, oil pipelines, or coal mines are facing contaminated water, extraordinarily high rates of cancer and heart disease, and birth defects. These communities impacted by extraction are disproportionately comprised of people of color and the poor.
Globally, increasing droughts and intense weather events lead to food shortages and force the emigration of entire island nations.
Climate change exacerbates already existing inequalities on both the national and global scale. The fight against climate change and the extractive industries is not just an environmental one, but also a struggle for social justice.
2. Divestment names the enemy.
The fossil fuel industry is responsible for climate change and the continuing failure of the world’s governments to do anything about it. The industry’s millions of dollars in campaign contributions have been repaid handsomely by billions of dollars in subsidies, artificially cheapening fossil fuels in relation to renewable sources. The only reason the industry is profitable in the first place is because unlike most other industries, it has been given license to pollute without paying for the health or ecological consequences of that pollution. Divestment targets fossil fuel companies and makes them responsible for actions they have have never been held accountable for.
3. A growing body of research shows that divestment is financially prudent.
A recent study by the Aperio Group analyzed the potential effects to the endowment of divestment from: 1) fifteen coal extraction and utilities companies, and 2) the entire industry – oil, gas, and consumable fuels. The results of the study showed that the impact of either option on risk and returns “may be far less significant than presumed.” For the first option, which only looks at fifteen companies (Swarthmore Mountain Justice is asking for divestment from sixteen companies), divestment would incur “virtually no risk penalty.” Another recent report by HSBC estimated that fossil fuel stocks are overvalued by 40-60%, making them a risky long-term investment. Though no study can predict the future of the stock market, Swarthmore’s Board of Managers can no longer summarily dismiss divestment on the grounds that it would cost the College money.
4. Divestment has a track record of success.
In the 1980s, a nationwide divestment movement led the United States government to withdraw its support from the South African apartheid regime. 155 colleges and universities, including Swarthmore, divested from apartheid. Grassroots pressure for divestment translated into political pressure on Washington. After years of governmental inaction, activism around South Africa became so widespread and powerful that a Republican-led Senate passed the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act over Ronald Reagan’s veto.
5. Fossil fuel divestment is already building political pressure.
There are over 250 colleges and universities across the country with divestment campaigns, and three schools — Hampshire College, Unity College, and Sterling College — have already divested. Churches and pension funds are also joining the movement! The city of Seattle has begun to divest its $1.9 billion pension fund from fossil fuels. This activity is being noticed in Washington — Senator Sheldon Whitehouse recently mentioned the divestment movement on the Senate floor to back up his calls for climate legislation.
6. Fossil Fuel Divestment is the largest U.S. student movement in recent memory.
It’s the fastest-moving student environmental campaign of the past decade, possibly ever. Over two hundred schools joined the movement last semester alone.
7. The movement is converging on Swarthmore this coming weekend.
This weekend, 170 students from 72 schools will be on campus for the Power Up! Divest Fossil Fuels Student Convergence. There will be exciting talks, lectures, panels and actions demonstrating the importance of this issue and developing a strategy to translate divestment energy into national political pressure. Come kick off the weekend by joining in Friday’s silent solidarity march, beginning on Sharples patio at 12:45 p.m.
8. The movement is collaborating with other struggles against fossil fuels.
This past weekend’s Keystone XL pipeline protest, struggles against mountain top removal and fracking, campaigns to shut down coal-fired power plants, and many other actions are working together to urge the government to act. Many of the speakers at the convergence will emphasize the necessity of collaborative action in fighting the fossil fuel industry.
9. This movement is going to win!
We know this movement is going to win because the alternatives are too harrowing to imagine. If climate change continues unchecked, our civilization will be fundamentally transformed for the worse. People around the country and the world are coming together to demand a better future.
10. The movement started right here in Swarthmore.
We were the first school to start a fossil fuel divestment campaign!
Written by Morgan Bartz, Benjamin Bernard-Herman, Alexis Dziedziech, Will Lawrence, and Pat Walsh.