Barnard College to Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies that Deny Climate Science

Today, the Barnard College Board of Trustees approved a plan to divest from coal, tar sands, and other fossil fuels companies that “deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change,” as written in the college’s media advisory. Barnard is the first college to target specific fossil fuel companies based on their climate actions, which is particularly relevant in today’s political climate.

This decision is a victory for academic freedom and scientific integrity in higher education and is the culmination of over three years of student organizing. In their press release, Divest Barnard acknowledges that this win would not have been possible without broad support from the student body and the work of the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment from Fossil Fuels.

“It is incredible to have such overwhelming support for divestment from administration and faculty,” said Divest Barnard sophomore organizer Sam Doss. “We hope that their demonstrated commitment to working with students will raise the bar for other administrations being asked to take on the challenge of fossil fuel divestment. We also hope that this moment will inspire ongoing campaigns.”

Barnard’s decision came just two days after Divest Smith College held a vigil for victims of climate change and the fossil fuel industry. After the vigil, Divest Smith organizers met with the Smith College Board of Trustees to demand a public recommendation on fossil fuel divestment by April 1 from its subcommittee, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR). The ACIR has been meeting for nearly a year and a half and has not committed to any timeline for making a recommendation.

Perhaps this is moment is more inspiring for the students at Smith College than at any other institution. Athena Sofides, a Divest Smith organizer, said, “We are incredibly proud of and inspired by our Seven Sisters sibling and fellow Investure client.”

Currently, the endowments of both Smith College and Barnard College are managed by Investure LLC, which pools their clients’ money together instead of tailoring their portfolios. Barnard College has $18 million and Smith College has over $100 million invested in fossil fuels. Robert Goldberg, Barnard’s chief operating officer, spoke with Bloomberg News, and said, “Climate change is right in front of us — institutions like ours have to act in some way.”

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Day of Action to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

Today, more than 100 peaceful solidarity actions will be taking place across the country to pressure President Obama to revoke the permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).

This is history in the making. For months, indigenous activists have been “fighting with everything they have to protect their water, the land, their history, and the climate — and we need to fight with them.” Obama already said no to Keystone XL, and we urge him to say no to DAPL, too.

On September 9, three federal agencies blocked construction of the pipeline despite the fact that a federal judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe their appeal for an injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers. The decision is scheduled to be appealed tomorrow.

Divest Smith College encourages all its members and allies to answer the call to action by attending a local demonstration, contributing to legal defense funds for the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp, calling the White House (202-456-1111), or spreading the word on social media using #NoDAPL.

UMass Divests All Direct Investments in Fossil Fuels

Today the University of Massachusetts became the first public university to divest its endowment from direct investments in fossil fuels. The University released a statement today and the full story was also published in the Hampshire Gazette.

The UMass Foundation’s unanimous decision follows a series of escalations. Last December, the Foundation committed to divest from direct holdings in coal. Between April 11 and April 15, over 500 students participated in the sit-in at the Whitmore Administration building at UMass Amherst as part of a protest to “divest the rest.”

Students in the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign have been the driving force in this movement but academic departments, student government, 350.org, media organizations, presidential candidate Jill Stein, and even University President Marty Meehan came out or made statements in support of the students.

Divest Smith College also participated in the sit-in and will continue to stand in solidarity with Divest UMass as it pushes for full divestment from comingled funds as well as direct holdings.

Today, though, we celebrate this victory. It is the result of incredible student organizing and demonstrates the power of the people. Divestment of any college or university makes a big statement that future generations are not satisfied with the status quo and are committed to fighting for climate justice.

Smith Faculty Release Petition to Divest Endowment from Fossil Fuels

This week, Smith College faculty members have started a petition that calls on Smith to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Throughout the four-year history of the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Smith College, faculty have stood with the movement and acted as leaders, allies, and resources.

Increasing consensus among the faculty that Smith urgently needs to divest its endowment has manifested in this petition, which calls “respectfully and urgently on Smith College (1) to freeze immediately all new investments in coal, oil and natural gas industries and (2) to commit to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.”

This call to action comes at a key moment in history, with international leaders gathered at the U.N. climate summit in Paris to make commitments to reduce emissions and confront both the causes and impacts of climate change. If Smith is truly committed to preparing women to be global leaders, then it “must now acknowledge its own role in helping finance the disruption of the world’s climate”–which disproportionately impacts women, people of color, and marginalized peoples least responsible for climate change–by divesting from fossil fuels.

You can view the faculty’s petition to divest Smith College here. If you are a faculty member of Smith College, we invite you to sign the petition.

Smith Senate Passes Resolution Supporting Fossil Fuel Divestment

On February 3rd, 2015, Smith College Senate voted in favor of a resolution supporting divestment. The resolution agreed with creating a fossil fuel free portfolio because of the strong moral and political arguments for divestment. In addition, senators demanded the formation of a Committee on Investor Responsibility, which will combine voices of various stakeholders in order to seriously consider the possibility of fossil fuel divestment at Smith and the moral implications of remaining invested in this destructive industry.

Divest Smith College worked closely with senators throughout the process to address their concerns. Together, we decided to make a strong statement in support of divestment for moral, political, and long-term financial reasons, in addition to making a direct ask for reinstatement of the CIR. Senate discussed the resolution over the course of several weeks during the open forum portion of their meetings, with Divest Smith College taking a backseat in these discussions while remaining present to provide additional information.

The resolution is a strong statement from students in favor of fossil fuel divestment. 40 senators voted “yes,” with only 2 “no”s and 5 abstentions.

Students Flood Smith College President’s Office with Singing Valentine Calling for Divestment

Northampton, MA –  30 singing students flooded into Smith College President Kathleen McCartney’s office today to deliver a Valentine’s Day card signed by over 100 members of the student body to demand the college divest from fossil fuels.

Divest Smith College was joined by the a capella group The Notables to deliver the singing Valentine and card. “Please divest our endowment fund! Put big oil on the run! Wind and solar will get us through! We’re breaking up with fossil fuels!” they sang as they entered College Hall.

“President McCartney has not come out in favor of or against divesting our endowment from fossil fuels. We’re asking her to “be our Valentine” by accepting our card and publicly supporting divestment on Valentine’s Day,” said Callie Sieh ‘18J, a member of Divest Smith College.

“Smith College’s investments must reflect the values of the College. With 84.2% of the student body and over 85% of the student Senate in support of divestment from fossil fuels, the current investment strategy is clearly in opposition to the position of our student body,” said Eleanor Adachi ‘17, an outreach leader for the group.

Divest Smith College advocates for investment standards that will establish Smith College as a model for an economically viable, socially proactive, and environmentally committed institution. The campaign calls on Smith College to (1) freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and (2) commit now to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

Smithies gather outside the Grecourt Gates to ask President McCartney to support fossil fuel divestment.

Smithies gather outside the Grecourt Gates to ask President McCartney to support fossil fuel divestment.

Response to “Fossil Fuels Update”

On September 8th an email titled “Fossil fuels update” was sent to students, faculty, and staff of Smith College. The email informed the Smith community that the Investment Committee of the Board of trustees had voted unanimously to transfer one million dollars of Smith’s endowment into a sustainable and global equities fund. The following is an open letter of response from Divest Smith College.

Dear President McCartney and Chairperson Eveillard,

When representatives from Divest Smith College met with select members of the Board of Trustees last spring, we vocalized our belief that divestment from the fossil fuel industry is the right choice for Smith College. This belief is reflected by the student body, as shown by the overwhelming majority that passed a student body referendum last spring, in favor of divestment. The unanimous vote by the investment committee of the Board of Trustees to transfer one million dollars into Investure’s sustainable global equities fund reminds Divest Smith College that we need to continue to encourage a dialogue on campus about why we believe full divestment from the fossil fuel industry is what is best for Smith College and for the world.

Our campaign is centered around the belief that Smith College has a moral responsibility to divest. The Fossil fuels update letter focused largely on Smith’s value of sustainability, but Divest Smith College believes that investing in fossil fuels means much more than funding environmental destruction.We are financially supporting an industry that strips communities of the ability to thrive. In Holyoke, where there is a coal-fired power plant, one in four children has asthma. In Appalachia, where there is nearly unchecked fracking, strip-mining, and mountaintop removal, some communities’ water supply is so polluted with methane that it can be lit on fire as it come out of the tap. Climate change refugees, fleeing their homes due to flooding and extreme weather events, continue to grow in number. Those who are the least to blame for this crisis will suffer from it the most.

The letter did not address that Smith’s continued investment in fossil fuels is not only unaligned with Smith’s values, but also financially unsustainable. The market value of fossil fuels is calculated with the assumption that all fossil fuels on record will be useable in the future. However, in order to keep the average temperature of the planet from increasing any more than two degrees Celsius, 80% of fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. By remaining invested in fossil fuels, Smith College is betting on a resource whose value will inevitably and drastically depreciate. Recently, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a former constituent of Investure, divested their 860 million dollars from the fossil fuel industry as a means of aligning their assets with their environmental principles. They are among a host of individuals, institutions, and private investors to act as leading-edge movers who have committed to divest collectively fifty billion dollars from fossil fuels. If Smith is to “model solutions that contribute to a sustainable future,” we cannot afford to be less than at the forefront of this movement.

Divestment is ultimately the only choice for Smith that is environmentally sustainable, ethically sound, and financially responsible. It is imperative that we communicate to the fossil fuel industry that Smith College will not stand for the destruction of the environment, the marginalization of human beings, or the corruption of our democratic process. We must refuse to take part in some of the modern world’s most oppressive systems, those that profit from the abuse of the planet and its people, and disproportionately exploit people with less money and people of color. As Smith College community members we must all work together to safeguard the mission and future of our institution while maintaining the financial integrity of our endowment.

Divest Smith College is excited to continue to work collaboratively with the administration, the Board of Trustees, and the larger Smith College community to encourage more dialogue about divestment. It remains our belief that divestment is the right choice for Smith, and we are eager to continue to push for a diverse and dynamic conversation about the benefits and tradeoffs of aligning our money with our morals.