Bill McKibben Teams Up With 5C Students on Divestment Campaign

World-renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben and students from the Claremont Colleges spoke Sunday about the 5C Divestment Campaign, which calls on the 5Cs to freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies and divest, or withdraw, investments in five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

The event, held at the University of California, Los Angeles, was part of the “Do the Math” national tour by, a campaign founded by McKibben that aims to reduce the current level of 392 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. The organization is currently working with student organizers across the country to start divestment campaigns on over 30 campuses.

The 5Cs were highlighted at the UCLA stop of the tour because they are the first colleges on the West Coast to start their divestment campaign.

Jess Grady-Benson PZ ’14, Kai Orans PO ’14 and Megan Tokunaga PO ’15 led the group of 5C students who traveled to UCLA for the lecture.

Grady-Benson began the event with a speech about the motivation for the 5C Divestment Campaign.

“We are all here tonight because on some level, we are concerned about the future,” she said. “The fight to resolve the climate crisis is more urgent than ever.”

Although the 5C Divestment Campaign only started last Sunday, an online petition calling on the colleges to freeze investments in fossil fuel companies is already in circulation. Grady-Benson said that getting the 5Cs to disclose their current investments will be the campaign’s next step.

“Endowment transparency is going to be one of the things we’re working on in conjunction with this movement in order to make it more feasible and just clear for students to be able to address what investments are being made,” Grady-Benson said.

Tokunaga added that this semester the campaign will focus on building the core of the movement on campus with the help of organizer Deirdre Smith.

“We will be looking for students across the 5Cs to make our core team,” Tokunaga said. “We’ll be setting up the team this semester so when we get back [in January] we’ll be able to start petitioning and working with the board and doing days of action.”

McKibben, who describes himself as a “professional bummer-outer,” focused most of his lecture on the math behind environmental science. He said that it is important to act now, before the damage to the environment becomes “catastrophic.”

In the spirit of the title of the “Do the Math” tour, McKibben introduced a series of numbers that have been confirmed as accurate by the International Energy Agency. He said that, globally, humans can only afford to produce 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide before the planet’s temperature is raised by two degrees Celsius.

“Anything more than this risks catastrophe for life on earth,” McKibben said.

He also praised grassroots movements like the one taking place at the 5Cs, adding that student involvement is what inspires him to keep working to fight climate change.

“What gives me hope is that there are people, I mean, look, we have people from the Claremont Colleges here and we’ve got pictures of people in 191 countries who are all ready to go, they’re all trying their best,” McKibben said.

Grady-Benson said that she feels excited about how the divestment campaign will be received among 5C students.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out, especially at Pitzer, because Pitzer has these really strong social values and environmental commitments,” she said. “We’re really taking this stuff seriously now.”

However, Tokunaga said that she expects the divestment campaign to face a few obstacles in dealing with the administrations and boards of trustees for all of the 5Cs.

“I think fossil fuel companies are really profitable and it will be hard to transfer the funds,” she said. “I think working with the board of trustees is going to be difficult. But I guess I’m hopeful. I know it’s going to be hard, but seeing so much interest in this already is a great sign and having the support from 350 is going to help a lot.”

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