2014 has been a crucial year for the fossil fuel divestment movement. In April, Blackrock, the world’s biggest fund manager, created a fossil-free fund for its investors and placing divestment in the financial mainstream. In May, Stanford University divested its $18.7 billion endowment from coal — the largest in history. Over the summer, the movement took hold in Norway and within the World Council of Churches. South African activist Desmond Tutu, Chief of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Chrstiana Figueres ’79, World Bank Chief Jim Yong Kim and former Irish President Mary Robinson joined the now hundreds of prominent figures that have come out in support of divestment. On September 21, divestment will see the biggest mobilizing event in the history of the movement: New York’s People’s Climate March.
In the early fall of 2011, however, the movement’s influence stretched just between the walls of Kohlberg. Swarthmore’s Mountain Justice (MJ) designed and developed the divestment movement, which now has thousands of powerful advocates across the country and the world.
MJ’s plans for this academic year are many, according to member Sara Blazevic ’15. The next few weeks will be focused on recruitment, both for new members and the march. Following September 21, there will be trainings and meetings for students to become more informed on the movement and the ways in which they can become allies.
“The economics and politics of fossil fuel divestment have totally changed in the past year,” said member Guido Girgenti ’15. “Just in 2014, tens of billions of dollars have already been divested by universities, religious institutions and major foundations.”
Both Blazevic and Girgenti point to Blackrock’s creation of a fossil fuel free fund as a critical point in proving the viability of this movement to create real change in the fight for sustainability.
“[The Blackrock victory] proves that finance and the business community will respond to the demands of a social movement,” Girgenti said. “There’s vanishingly little excuse to not have divested when the largest asset manager is offering its clients that very option.”
This international momentum comes at a time of change in Swarthmore leadership. Interim President Constance Hungerford sent an email titled “Getting to work” on her first official day in office, inviting students to “dream big, but concretely, about how Swarthmore can create change, how we can be better stewards of the earth, and how we can encourage others to do the same.”
Blazevic doesn’t see a future in which being “better stewards of the earth” doesn’t involve divestment.
“I think if Swarthmore College wishes to maintain its status as a prestigious and socially responsible institution of higher learning in this country, it will be increasingly difficult for them to maintain their investments in fossil fuel extraction,” she said.
“If I were an administrator, I would be racing to be the one who divests the institution from fossil fuels and make that my legacy as a leader,” he said. “Because there is no doubt that ten years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, fossil fuel divestment will be seen as the first of many shifts in our society that we took to avert climate catastrophe.”