The current campaign builds on successes and learned lessons of the national movement, and also of our own history. There was a very influential and high-profile campaign for fossil fuel divestment in the 2012-2013 academic year that ended in big wins for endowment responsibility generally, but a “not now” for divestment. The following year was quieter, with a focus on implementing the new commitments to socially responsible investing. Now, with the student body refreshed and important changes in the national context, we are re-igniting the movement. We hope that when Middlebury declares carbon neutrality that will include our endowment.
Origins of Fossil Fuel Divestment (2010-2012):
When Middlebury’s Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign began in the fall of 2012, it built on recent success of the broader Socially Responsible Investing campaign at Middlebury, meetings with students at Swarthmore who had been campaigning for their college’s divestment for two years, and Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article advocating for divestment, published that summer.
Socially Responsible Investing gains support at Middlebury
Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) of the college’s endowment has long been a goal of Middlebury students, but it gained a particular groundswell of support in the spring of 2012. The SRI club held educational events and town hall style meetings in the fall of 2011 that mobilized a strong group of students committed to Middlebury investing in line with its institutional values of global citizenship and environmental stewardship. During the spring of 2012, they gathered 1,200 signatures on a paper petition asking for endowment transparency and for the general social responsible investment of the endowment. In response to the engagement, the administration hosted a panel in April, featuring Middlebury’s CFO Patrick Norton, a representative from Middlebury’s outsourced investment office Investure, and two other college-selected experts. Dana Auditorium was packed. At the spring meeting of the Board of Trustees, the student-comprised Advisory Committee for SRI (ACSRI) presented the petitions and a formal presentation to the Investment Committee. This combination of popular support and well-constructed presentations led to more regular, formalized meetings with CFO Norton the following fall as the Divestment campaign began. SRI continues to meet independently, working on other approaches to socially responsible investment while passively supporting the Divestment movement.
Swarthmore Mountain Justice
(adapted from swatmountainjustice.wordpress.com)
During Swarthmore College’s Spring and Fall breaks of 2010, students traveled to West Virginia to learn about mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR), an extreme form of coal extraction that destroys the landscape and poisons Appalachian communities. While there, they had formative conversations with activists and people living in frontline communities, and saw first-hand the effects of this type of mining. When they returned to campus, they wanted to continue to act in solidarity with the people they had met from front-line communities. But as students at Swarthmore, they were far removed from where coal mining and MTR were actually taking place. They wondered what action would best use their position as students at Swarthmore to stop the destruction in Appalachia, and realized that it might be through their college’s investments in mountaintop removal and other extractive industries. Middlebury students got to meet some of these Swarthmore students at retreats held by the Responsible Endowments Coalition in the summer of 2012, and these experiences educated and inspired us.
Bill McKibben publishes in Rolling Stone: “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math“
In the summer of 2012, Middlebury College’s Schumann Distinguished Scholar Bill McKibben wrote an article in Rolling Stone that received 14,000 comments and was shared 142,000 times on Facebook. It was called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” and it laid out the math of climate change in a kind of budget: 2°C is the internationally agreed-upon upper limit of temperature increase that will be remotely safe or acceptable; 565 gigatons is the amount of CO2 whose emissions we can be 80% sure will not warm the atmosphere more than 2°C; and 2,795 gigatons, the amount of carbon held in proven underground fossil fuel reserves and owned by fossil fuel corporations. This means we have 5x the reserves that we know it’s “safe” to burn, and in order for fossil fuel companies holding those reserves to fulfill their business plan, they absolutely plan on selling and burning all of those plus more. At the end of his article, McKibben advocates divestment from these fossil fuel companies on financial and morally imperative grounds.
Building to administrative engagement (Fall 2012)
Panels, rallies, and a formal pitch (Winter 2012)
Deadlines set and pushed-past (Spring 2013)
Pivoting to positives after a “not now” on Divestment (2013-2014)
Where we are now (Fall-Winter 2014)