Opinion: ‘Divest Middlebury’ nears its goal
This past Friday, Divest Middlebury took a major step towards our goal of finally aligning the college endowment with our mission statement. At 11:30 a.m., three students from Divest Middlebury arrived at Old Chapel to present the students’ position on fossil fuel divestment and the necessary steps the school must take going forward.
Students gathered outside of the building to hear the same presentation, showing support and a desire to learn more about the movement that is currently gaining so much worldwide momentum. This day came as a result of years of effort by multiple generations of student and community activists. Their work has constructed the movement that we are honored to build upon.
Friday morning, three students entered a conference room full of unfamiliar faces to present the case for fossil fuel divestment on behalf of the student body. The presentation lasted fifteen minutes and was met with applause and exclamations from the board of trustees. The board was engaged and curious; they asked questions about paths forward and were supportive of the conversation.
Adding to the urgency emphasized in the presentation, the sounds of chanting, singing, and shouting could be heard from outside as other student activists surrounded the building. Our movement is more than conversations behind closed doors, but a campus-wide issue. In fact, it is student power that made the presentation possible.
Last spring, the Middlebury student body demanded divestment through an SGA referendum in which 80 percent of students supported fossil fuel divestment with a 70 percent voter turnout (the largest in recent memory). Students pressed the board to pledge to divest all endowment assets that include any of the top 200 fossil fuel companies. This referendum brought the issue to the board’s attention and showed them an irrefutable truth: divestment is a worldwide movement that addresses a crisis threatening members of our community at school, at home, and all over the globe. While divestment alone isn’t the solution to that crisis, it is a tactic to fight it.
Middlebury students do not come from a single background, unaffected by environmental struggles. We come from the coast of California, from mountains on fire, from decimated coal mining towns in Tennessee, from wetlands in Florida ravaged by development, from communities feeling the impact of super storms and hurricanes. We come as immigrants who have fled the impacts of drought and resource wars, as international students from Indonesia and Siberia and Mexico and Brazil and Zimbabwe and New Zealand and countless other impacted nations.
Furthermore, the Middlebury Community extends beyond students, to low-income staff members impacted by changing weather in Vermont, to faculty with the Vermont Gas Pipeline in their backyards, to alumni and families scattered across this world. We come from farms without soil, from urban environmental justice areas clogged with power plants and oil trains and refineries, from communities torn apart by fracking and pipelines, from nations slowly going underwater.
Here in Vermont, Lyme disease rates are skyrocketing, summer programming at Middlebury has been interrupted due to heat waves, and winters are getting both shorter and warmer. As a board member pointed out after the presentation, climate change is one of the most challenging problems our generation will ever face. Global warming is not a problem contained to the scope of traditional environmental thought. It is a crisis where oppressions intersect and augment — a crisis that disproportionately devastates already marginalized populations.
Right now, Middlebury owns 53.7 million dollars worth of the fossil fuel industry. This means that the College lends its reputation for sustainability and its social credibility to an industry whose base economic model requires the continued burning of fossil fuel reserves.
In our school’s name and with our school’s money, the fossil fuel industry continues to feed climate change. The money that provides for our education should not be a tool of the fossil fuel industry or a tool of violence. The money that provides for our education should not be at the expense of the future. It is wrong to finance our education with a strategy that supports the destruction of our planet and our home communities.
On Friday, we told our board of trustees that continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is unacceptable. We must end our support of the industry — for justice and for the future. We are confident that the Board will align its management of our endowment with the College’s values of sustainability, community, and global leadership. After the presentation, Divest Middlebury received an email confirming that the board is considering paths forward and will be releasing an official statement by the January 2019 board meeting. To the Middlebury student body — thank you for your support. To those suffering from climate change and other injustices — we see you and we stand with you.
Addendum: Since this op-ed was published in the Middlebury Campus on Oct. 4, our argument to divest has only grown stronger. The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) published their report on Oct. 8. This report shows the severity of the state of our climate: predicting we have until 2030 to drastically change our behavior in order to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.
In the wake of the report, the Office of the President of Middlebury College sent an email addressed to the Middlebury College community. President Patton and the board of trustees reaffirmed the importance of climate change as one of the “profound challenges facing our world today,” preceding their announcement of “a new set of actions Middlebury will take to advance its leadership in and commitment to environmental stewardship beyond carbon neutrality.” We look forward to seeing what these actions will entail, and are hopeful that divesting from fossil fuel corporations will be one of them.
Middlebury College students Cora Kircher, Tricia Nelsen, Leif Taranta and Lucy Weiss are writing on behalf of the organization Divest Middlebury.
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