The movement to divest from fossil fuels started at Swarthmore in the Spring of 2011. It’s time that the institution from which the movement grew support it. Swarthmore needs to divest, and it needs to do it now.
An increasing number of institutions — churches, cities, organizations, universities and colleges — have pledged to divest from fossil fuels in the last few months. Notably, Stanford University divested its $18.7 billion endowment from coal in May and Pitzer College divested $124 million if its endowment from fossil fuels one month prior. These are a few of many instances proving that divestment is possible.
But it’s not necessary to step beyond our campus’ limits to know this. Professor of Economics Mark Kuperberg has studied Swarthmore’s own endowment and investments and has concluded that divestment would not impact the college’s finances. We can no longer insist that divesting is not financially feasible. Our peer institutions prove that it is, in fact, possible. Our moral compass proves that it is necessary.
Though Kuperberg claims that divestment will not have a significant impact on fossil fuel companies, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the potential of the movement to achieve tangible results. The movement has ceased to be about ideals. Instead, it has been slowly but surely creeping into the financial and social mainstream. BlackRock, one of the largest investment management companies in the world, recently created a fossil fuel-free fund. Figures like Desmond Tutu, World Bank Chief Jim Yong Kim and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, among so many others, have endorsed the movement. On Monday, the philanthropic organization of the Rockefeller family, whose fortune is rooted in oil, divested.
Swarthmore, with its Quaker roots and strong, ingrained commitment to social justice, can no longer deny the connection between environmental and social justice. If the college continues to reject divestment, it must also reject its self-proclaimed “socially-conscious” label.
We urge both the Board of Managers and the administration to re-consider their position. In a couple of years divestment will be seen as one of many obvious steps that were taken to avert climate catastrophes. At this point in time, our students will be remembered for their stellar leadership, activism, commitment to social justice. We ask you to think about what you’ll be remembered for.
Correction: This editorial previously implied that Stanford University divested from all fossil fuels when it only divested from coal. It has been updated accordingly.