Letter to the editor: College protestors called for divestment

Last Friday, members of the Middlebury College student organization Divest Middlebury gathered in the lobby of Old Chapel, the college’s administrative building, for an educational demonstration against the school’s investments in fossil fuel corporations. As the Board of Trustees met, we lined the hallway, equipped with orange signs reading “Pledge to Divest in Fall 2018.” We were gathered to demonstrate our desire to engage in dialogue with our Board about divestment and the moral implications of our institution’s role in exacerbating climate change.
In a Student Government Association referendum last month, Middlebury students came out to vote in record numbers, with 80 percent voting to divest our College’s endowment from the 200 fossil fuel corporations with the largest carbon reserves. The vote was a demand that the Board of Trustees begin the divestment process, a demand that Middlebury hold its endowment accountable.
It is time for our school to join the global movement — along with roughly 880 other institutions — that has already succeeded in divesting $6.09 trillion from the fossil fuels industry.
The college’s current investment in the fossil fuels industry isn’t moral, and it doesn’t make financial sense. The Board of Trustees supposedly exists to preserve Middlebury’s “educational excellence and financial vitality.” MSCI, a prominent financial analysis firm, created two nearly identical investment indices, with one excluding fossil fuel corporations. If $1 billion had been invested in 2010, the fossil fuel free index would be worth $2.24 billion, compared to the $2.13 billion worth of the other index.
This is just the tip of the iceberg: fossil fuel assets are valued based on the assumption that we will burn all reserves. The valuing of these investments does not account for the actions necessary to mitigate the threat of climate change, so fossil fuel investments have come to represent a carbon bubble that will burst when emission reductions become a global priority.
We sat in the first floor lobby of Old Chapel from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Board members walked by us, some stopping to talk to us, curious about the students holding large orange posters and wielding fact sheets chronicling the plethora of fiscal and moral reasons to divest. We were met with varying degrees of interest, ranging from enthusiasm to opposition. We shook hands, made eye contact, stood back when Board members shook their heads to imply they had no interest in speaking with us. It was important that we had been there to shake the hands of these people that didn’t know any of us personally, that we were able to demonstrate just how important this issue is to the student body and our continued dedication to divestment.
The college is supposedly committed to environmental mindfulness and stewardship in all its activities. Our handbook states that “This commitment arises from a sense of concerned citizenship and moral duty and from a desire to teach and lead by example … all individuals in this academic community have personal responsibility for the way their actions affect the local and global environment.” Our mission statement claims that Middlebury is teaching ethical citizenship to address the world’s most challenging problems. It’s impossible to read these words and not see the hypocrisy. While our school boasts carbon neutrality and a commitment to sustainability, we contribute to an industry that feeds climate change and disproportionately harms marginalized populations.
It’s heartbreaking to learn about your own culpability in systems causing incredible devastation. That’s how many of us protesting for the Board to pledge to divest feel: heartbroken, disappointed, and scared. We don’t want our college to function on hypocrisy because it’s convenient or because it’s easy. We want our college to protect our futures; we want our college to participate in the ethical citizenship and stewardship it espouses.
Our generation has been charged with an enormous undertaking. It feels like we are constantly being told — in classes, by the media, by adults — that it’s our moral imperative to stop climate change. Last week, we showed our Board of Trustees that we are trying.
Now, it’s their turn.
Cora Kircher, Zoe Grodsky, Alec Fleischer and Lucy Weiss
Students on behalf of Divest Middlebury
Middlebury College

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