By the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition
Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition by the numbers:
4 years active
400+ hours of work
1,049 students voted yes to divest from fossil fuels
1 trustee working for the fossil fuel industry
Hundreds of student organizations at American colleges and universities are working to take our future back from the fossil fuel industry. More than 500 fossil fuel divestment campaigns, which also include countries, cities, churches, and nonprofits, have removed $3.4 trillion from the fossil fuel industry. This activism is alive and well at Mount Holyoke.
For the past four years, the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition (CJC), has been running a fossil fuel divestment campaign. Climate change, which is caused in part by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, is leading to increased food insecurity, escalating global poverty, public health consequences, the depletion of environmental resources, damage to delicate ecological systems, and the weakening of the global economy. Currently, a portion of the Mount Holyoke endowment is invested in the fossil fuel industry, meaning that our institution is funding climate change. This must change.
The goal of our campaign is to:
Immediately freeze new investments in the top two hundred publicly-traded fossil fuel companies.
Remove investments (divest) from these companies over the course of five years.
Reinvest in socially responsible and sustainable alternatives.
In order to divest, the Board of Trustees must vote in favor of fossil fuel divestment. The Board manages the endowment along with an outside firm called Cambridge Associates, which offers fossil fuel-free options for the funds they manage. Once the Board of Trustees makes a commitment to divest, this firm can determine the specifics of transitioning the endowment away from fossil fuels while also keeping the endowment secure.
We have had meetings with administrators, students, faculty, staff, and alumnae. We have done research on everything from the morality to the financial implications of divestment. We have presented this information on many platforms. Although we appreciate the ongoing dialogue with the administration, at this point the administration is making excuses as to why we cannot divest.
These are the roadblocks we have come up against:
2014 and 2015: CJC requested to present at the Board of Trustees annual meeting in May. Both times we were denied.
Spring 2014: CJC held an SGA campus-wide referendum (a vote, not a memorandum, which is a letter) on the issue of fossil fuel divestment. 54% of the student body voted and of the students who voted, 88% were in favor of fossil fuel divestment at Mount Holyoke. We provided this information to administrators and the Board of Trustees and they dismissed the data, despite it being higher turnout and greater consensus than in presidential elections in the United States. The administration does not think students are fully aware of what divestment means, although CJC followed the SGA protocols and designed a neutral question.
Spring 2016: We became aware of a conflict of interest: several members of the Board of Trustees are both personally and professionally opposed to divestment. The college’s ties to the fossil fuel industry run deep: the Chair of the Board is the President and Founder of a fossil fuel company.
The administration has asked the campaign to accomplish certain tasks. Yet, when we complete them, the administration does not respond with action. After years of this cycle, our campaign feels as though it is being strategically put off by the college. It is our duty as a progressive institution of higher education to divest from the fossil fuel industry. By divesting, we will contribute to a powerful shift away from the dirty energy of the past, away from unjust investments, and away from the corporate stranglehold these institutions have over our political process.
We have the power to determine our own future, but only if we take a stand.
We work on this campaign because we see the potential to make Mount Holyoke a better institution. We are living at the end of the fossil fuel era, and this industry threatens to destroy the delicate fabric of life as we know it. Divestment will move us forward to counteract the chain reaction of devastating events due to unfold as a result of climate change, thus allowing us to take control of our futures as inhabitants of this planet.
And we’re picking up speed. In the fall of 2015, Naomi Klein, a climate activist and author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, endorsed CJC while giving a talk at Mount Holyoke. A couple months later, a faculty ad-hoc committee was formed to investigate divestment. Not all of the committee members were pro-divestment at the time of the committee’s formation, but as a result of their research, they wrote a pro-divestment recommendation. The Faculty Planning and Budgeting Committee recently voted unanimously to endorse this recommendation, meaning the statement will go to all of the faculty for their consideration. If the faculty are in favor of moving the statement forward, then some version will go to the Trustees for their consideration.
As we are gaining the support of faculty, alumnae, and important people outside the college, we want to energize students about this issue. We are excited to educate, empower, and co-create and grow with more students. We are organizing two teach-ins this month focusing on the college’s endowment, fossil fuel divestment, and how climate change is linked to various forms of oppression, colonialism, and historic and current injustice. With big changes like centralized dining and tuition increases, students deserve to understand how trustees and administrators make financial decisions. Whatever issue you are passionate about, learning about your personal political power is at the heart of making change.
Climate change is our issue, and the time is now. We want to establish coalitions. We want to work with other social justice groups on campus. Climate justice is part of an intersectional movement, both on campus and throughout the world. And it is a movement, not a moment. We are learning how to speak truth to power. We are in this for the long haul, and we need you to join us.
How can you get involved? Come to our events!
Endowment 101: Who Handles Mount Holyoke’s Money? Teach in: 7:30-8:30pm on Thursday, April 14th in Cleveland L2
Climate Change in the Valley and Beyond Teach in: 7:30-8:30pm on Thursday, April 21st in Cleveland L2
Weekly Meetings: 7:30-8:30pm on Tuesdays in Skinner 213