Divestment would prove Quaker tradition alive and well

To the Editor,

My wife, Gail Grossman ’65, and I have three granddaughters who will, with any luck, live to 2075 or later. We fear what the world they will inherit from our generation will be like. We are doing what we can to ensure that they live healthy and happy lives. We are also doing what we can to reduce global climate change.

Our 50th Swarthmore reunion is looming close. We look forward to seeing our classmates and to making the expected donation to the school that we so appreciate, which brought us together and kindled our love. However, we will not make a donation to any fund that is invested in fossil fuels.

I have read the op-ed written on 20 November by Gil Kemp ’72, Chair of the Board of Managers. I find several problems with what he has written. Divestment is not an empty gesture. I am delighted that Swarthmore is seeking other solutions, but I feel that divestment would tell the world that Swarthmore’s Quaker ethical tradition is alive and well. Not only do we Friends “speak truth to power,” but we also put our money where our mouths are. This Quaker Matchbox couple will not donate to the Swarthmore endowment until it divests.

Kemp’s primary concern is that, without investments in fossil fuels, Swarthmore’s magnificent endowment will not grow so well. A study by Standard & Poor’s belies that; a theoretical fund without carbon-based investments did slightly better over a ten-year span than their S&P 500. In the past, Swarthmore had the concern that it could not divest from one category of investments since all investments were managed in a huge panel of instruments. Since Kemp wrote his op-ed, the company managing the largest portion of Swarthmore’s endowment, Cambridge Associates, has made a significant announcement. Cambridge now has a panel that is free of fossil fuel investments.

My understanding of the status of coal and petroleum is that their exploiters vastly overstate reserves of these fossil fuels. Since, as time goes on, it will become more difficult to develop these resources, the cost of delivering carbon-based energy to end-users will rise rapidly in the future. This will make fossil fuel investments much less valuable. Indeed, in the rush to sell off carbon-based investments, they may become “stranded assets.”

Kemp is looking toward the past when he writes about the Board of Managers investment policy. I see a bright future for renewable energy and a dim one for investments in fossil fuels. I would much prefer that the Swarthmore College Board of Managers take the moral high ground now by announcing a policy of divestment. Other colleges such as Pitzer and Hampshire have already announced their intention to divest, as has the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. I am certain that Swarthmore’s Board will realize the importance of making this move sooner or later. Wouldn’t it be best to be a leader and divest now, rather than wait until fossil fuel stocks lose value?

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman graduated from the college in 1965.

1 Comment

  1. Richard’s letter represents a growing number of Swarthmore alumni who are supporting fossil fuel-free investment at the College. We care very deeply about the College and want the Board of Managers to know that we will increase our financial support as soon as we hear that the College has a plan for divestment. We have always been proud of the leadership role Swarthmore has played in the area of social justice. Now we want the College to step up and lead the way to encourage other colleges and institutions, both nationally and worldwide, begin to put their money into investments that offer climate solutions, not ones that exacerbate climate problems.

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