Students organize to push college to divest
By Min Kyung Jeon, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 25, 2013
Following the lead of students at over 200 other universities, including Columbia University, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth students are mobilizing to encourage the College to divest from companies that contribute to global warming.
Many of these campaigns are partnered with the Fossil Free initiative, which is organized by the international environmental organization 350.org.
“We’re at Dartmouth because we want to get the best education possible so that we have the best future possible,” said Leehi Yona ’16, an organizer of the Dartmouth offshoot of Fossil Free. “We need to do everything in our power to reduce our impact on the environment.”
Yona said she and other organizers of the Dartmouth “Fossil Free” movement decided to launch their campaign after learning about 350.org.
Although the divestment campaign at Dartmouth has not officially begun, there has been a large amount of interest from students, alumni and campus environmental groups.
“We hope to collaborate on this issue with the entire Dartmouth community,” she said. “We think it’s an issue that transcends environmental awareness.”
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said that he and seven Middlebury College students founded the website in 2008 to create a mass movement against climate change around the world. In his recent “Do the Math” tour, McKibben showed that the fossil fuel industry holds five times more carbon reserves than scientists say would be safe to burn. McKibben called for the top 200 fossil fuel companies, identified by the Carbon Tracker Institute, to pledge to keep 80 percent of their current reserves underground on the basis of the “three big numbers,” which state that in order to prevent a catastrophe, global temperatures cannot increase by more than two degrees Celsius and the world can only burn 565 more gigatons of the 2,795 gigatons of carbon reserves currently held by fossil fuel companies.
“Fossil fuel companies are sitting on a carbon bubble that will wreck us all if they are allowed to burn it,” McKibben said. “We need to confront them.”
Annie Laurie Mauhs-Pugh ’14, a co-coordinator of the nascent Dartmouth initiative, said that institutions would benefit from keeping these energy reserves underground, since those reserves would become even more valuable.
350.org’s New England for campus outreach coordinator Shea Riester said that Unity College and Hampshire College have already promised to divest their endowments of fossil fuel companies following student campaigns.
The first Fossil Free campaigns began last year and are growing rapidly.
“From two schools to 210 schools in just several months, the movement is going forward at an incredible pace,” Riester said. “It’s also coming up at just the right time, when the government truly needs to address climate change.”
Harvard University senior Eva Roben, who is the co-coordinator of Divest Harvard, said that the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies are largely responsible for global warming. She said she does not believe her university should be involved in “the biggest moral issue of the day.”
Harvard’s president and administration were initially averse to speaking with Divest Harvard about divestment, but after the group created a petition that collected signatures from students, faculty, alumni and staff and held a student referendum on the issue, the administration became more cooperative, Roben said.
The referendum found that 72 percent of student voters supported Divest Harvard. The group will hold discussions with the administration in early February.
Yona said that the Dartmouth group does not know which fossil fuel companies the College invests its endowment funds in.
“It’s virtually impossible for us to know because nobody discloses such information,” Yona said. “But it’s safe to say that from among the top 200 fossil fuel companies, Dartmouth invests in some.”
Director of media relations Justin Anderson said that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact companies because much of the endowment is invested by investment managers in co-mingled funds.
He said that Dartmouth does not need to divest to make a difference.
“We believe that the most effective way to make fossil fuel companies more environmentally accountable, while also acting in the best financial interest of the institution, is for Dartmouth to use its status as a shareholder to vote for ‘green’ shareholder resolutions,” he said.
These environmental resolutions may include calling for sustainability reporting as well as strategies that lower companies’ carbon emissions and boost clean energy efforts.
Mauhs-Pugh said that the top 200 companies have a lot of lobbying power in Washington, D.C. and that the Fossil Free movement would demonstrate to Congress that the companies are not supported by consumers.
The divestment movement might pressure President Barack Obama and Congress to take action on climate change, she said.Dartmouth’s Fossil Free movement will meet to organize on Tuesday.