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.
Yesterday, Swarthmore’s largest financial advisor, Cambridge Associates, announced that it would actively assist institutional investors in implementing fossil fuel divestment. For the first time, the door to fossil free investment is wide open to Swarthmore and the dozens of other schools whose endowments Cambridge manages. For years the Board has argued that they cannot divest because our existing fund managers do not offer fossil free options. Cambridge’s offer means that a plan for divestment is now just a phone call away.
We call on Swarthmore College, as an institution deeply committed to justice, sustainability, and civic responsibility, to immediately reply to Cambridge’s offer and identify pathways to a fossil-free endowment. Climate change and our fossil fueled energy infrastructure caused nearly 14,000 deaths a day in 2010 alone and the potential damage wrought by unchecked fossil fuel extraction is unthinkable. The Board of Managers cannot refuse this unprecedented opportunity to be a moral leader on climate change by ending our investments in the fossil fuel industry and reinvesting in the just and sustainable future we need.
Following the Cambridge announcement, the recent U.S-China climate deal, and the UN’s latest climate report, fossil fuel investments are in the public eye more than ever. The world’s two biggest carbon polluters have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius – a commitment that can only be fulfilled by leaving 60%-80% of known carbon reserves in the ground and therefore devaluing the fossil fuel industry by 50%, according to the investment bank, HSBC. Continuing to invest in fossil fuels not only increases our endowment’s risk to the carbon bubble’s devaluation, but signals that we, as an institution, believe the fossil fuel industry is a legitimate long-term investment. This is the wrong message being sent at the worst time.
Fortunately, the tide is turning rapidly. 2014 has already been a historic year for the climate movement. Over 400,000 people, including 200 Swatties, came to the People’s Climate March. The next day, the Rockefeller Foundation, built off the wealth of Standard Oil Company, divested and the fossil fuel divestment movement hit a milestone: funds totalling over $50 billion have publicly committed to going fossil-free. The fossil fuel divestment movement began here at Swarthmore just three years ago. Since then it has grown to 500 campaigns around the world. The movement has assembled a groundbreaking coalition of universities, cities, religious institutions, and world leaders including World Bank President Jim Yong-Kim, U.N climate chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, and U.N General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.
The international movement that started on this campus caused the financial community to recognize the serious risk that the carbon bubble poses to long term investments. This ultimately led Cambridge Associates to publicly offer immediate and comprehensive assistance to any institutional investor seeking to transition to a fossil-free portfolio. As our world’s most vulnerable communities face increasingly deadly climate impacts, and our generation looks out onto a potentially catastrophic future, it is imperative that Swarthmore’s Board of Managers make this call.
We, as members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice and on behalf of the international divestment movement, call upon the Board of Managers and the Investments Committee to:
Immediately make the call to Cambridge and ask for assistance in identifying pathways to a fossil-free endowment.
Commit to working with Cambridge on a potential fossil fuel divestment plan at the December Board of Managers meeting.
Work with Swarthmore Mountain Justice and Cambridge Associates in the following months to construct a proposal for fossil fuel divestment, to be brought to the February Board of Managers meeting.
Vote on the proposal at the February Board of Managers meeting.
Climate change is already an unprecedented human rights crisis, and we know that it will be low-income communities and communities of color that will bear the brunt of our inaction. It is past time that Swarthmore align its investments with its values of social responsibility. We look forward to seeing our Board of Managers seize this crucial opportunity to demonstrate Swarthmore’s commitment to a just and sustainable future on this planet.