UPDATE: Fossil Fuel Divestment Sparks Debate, Continues to Grow
Officials at the very same college where leading environmental organization 350.org got its start, Middlebury College in Vermont, are now debating whether or not to follow the advice of their own Schumann Distinguished Scholar by divesting their stocks from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
350.org founder Bill McKibben joined a panel that included venture capitalists, money managers and one Middlebury student last week for the first of many open discussions to come about Middlebury’s investment policy. Alice Handy, founder and president of Investure, the firm that manages a portion of Middlebury’s endowment, also joined the panel. The debate examined both the advantages and disadvantages of divestment as a strategy for solving the global climate crisis.
“It makes no moral or practical sense to pay for the education of Middlebury students by investing in companies whose business plan guarantees they will not have a planet to enact that education on,” McKibben said during Tuesday’s event. “Our hope is not … that we can bankrupt companies like Exxon, we can’t. We’re completely unconcerned with the day to day movement of stock prices. We do think history shows that the attention generated by divestment can change the course of events.”
The Student Government Association of Middlebury conducted a survey before the panel discussion that found that 63 percent of the 1,031 respondents were in favor of divestment with 14 percent opposed.
“If Middlebury instructed [Handy] and Investure to move in this direction it would set a good example for these colleges as well as for the broader investment community,” 350.org Co-Founder Jamie Henn told Campus Progress. “This would really have ramifications beyond Middlebury campus, and start a really important discussion in the investment community as well.”
Students and community members working on divestment campaigns across the country are seeing an outpouring of support for their cause. Maine’s Unity College Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuels and Hampshire College in Massachusetts has also effectively divested from fossil fuels by passing a sustainable investment policy. Two of the city of Seattle’s top pension funds are also jumping on the divestment bandwagon in a movement that has sparked more than 210 student-driven campaigns across the country.
Students organizers at Georgetown University who recently launched their campaign have put together a broad coalition of student groups that includes their local chapter of the College Republicans. To inaugurate their campaign, the group delivered a divestment proposal to Georgetown President John DeGioia’s office last week.
“If we could actually get these places to put their money where their mouth is and show that they’re committed to stopping climate change…it would really be a major asset for the movement as a whole,” Georgetown Divestment organizer Daniel Dylewsky told Campus Progress.
Organizers at Tufts University met for the first time with the Investment Committee of Tufts University’s Board of Trustees last week to discuss divestment, in a move that proves students are pushing to be taken seriously. Trustees revealed to students that nearly five percent the university’s endowment is invested in dirty energy, calling the prospect of divestment a “challenging and difficult” one, but invited students to meet with them again in two weeks.
“We need to take everything that they say to us with a grain of salt,” sad Devyn Poell, a Tufts Divestment Organizer and member of Students for a Just and Stable Future. “Why would they just accept this? They don’t want to negotiate with us. They want us to go away.”
Candice Bernd is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceBernd.