OPINION: Pomona College must divest from fossil fuels, but that’s not enough

Factory buildings spout polluting fumes into the air.
Divesting Pomona College’s endowment from fossil fuels will not be enough, argues Nicholas Black PO ’24. (Courtesy: Gerry Machen via Flickr)

In case you haven’t seen the stickers plastered on students’ laptops, Pomona College invests in fossil fuels.

It should be obvious that Pomona’s investments in fossil fuels are wildly irresponsible given the dire nature of the climate crisis and enormous greed of fossil fuel companies putting profit over human lives. As many students and faculty have voiced over the years, it’s past time that Pomona divested all of its endowment money from these corporations, but this alone would not go far enough. To echo the calls of Divest Claremont Colleges and other campus groups, Pomona must not only divest from fossil fuels but reinvest this money as ethically as possible and after taking into account student input. 

Calls for Pomona to divest from fossil fuels are not new — campaigns have been launched since 2014 to achieve this very goal. Whereas previous campaigns for divestment have been unsuccessful, the circumstances of the movement have changed, suggesting that we may be closer than ever to seeing Pomona finally divest.

All across higher education, colleges and universities are abandoning their fossil fuel investments. In the past year alone, highly-ranked institutions like Harvard University, Dartmouth College and Boston University have divested from fossil fuels. This isn’t only due to ethical concerns of fossil fuel investments — several administrations, like those of the University of California system, which divested in 2020, cited financial concerns as the principal motivator for their decision. Fossil fuels, being limited resources that are also causing material damage to our planet, no longer yield the profits they once did for investors. 

The prospects of fossil fuel investments, both in terms of profit and morality, are clearly declining, hence why we see divestment campaigns ramping up across the country and more and more colleges and universities following through. However, as we move closer to extracting an agreement from Pomona to divest, we must be clear in saying the following: Divestment by itself is not enough. 

The dangers of achieving divestment from fossil fuels without any other remedies have been clearly observed here at the Claremont Colleges. Pitzer College, which divested from fossil fuels in 2014, is a client of BlackRock, an investment management firm which holds numerous investments about which students have expressed ethical concerns. Principal of these concerns are the firm’s investments in fossil fuel companies as well as GEO Group, one of the largest American operators of private prisons. 

Had transparency been enacted and student input integrated in Pitzer’s reinvestment process, students would have undoubtedly objected to contracting with an investment manager which supports such unethical practices. This should serve not only as a warning to the Pomona community, but also as a lesson as to how we can approach divestment differently.

When Pomona finally divests its endowment money from fossil fuel corporations, it must do so in an open and collaborative process. First, this means disclosing all investments that the college is legally allowed to disclose and making this information easily accessible to students, faculty and staff. 

Moreover, a collaborative divestment process would entail the incorporation of student perspectives throughout the process of reinvestment. Pomona is more than capable of collecting the input of students, as they have done before in various ways, and this is what must be done when it comes to reinvesting the funds that are taken out of fossil fuel companies. 

Pomona students deserve a voice in deciding what our college will support financially. As a matter of principle, our input should be important to the college in terms of reinvestment. Going even further, the inclusion of student feedback in the divestment process, coupled with disclosure, could prevent the college from taking on more problematic investments or refusing to examine what other investments may be ethically problematic. 

These solutions are the agenda of Divest Claremont Colleges, an on-campus group which we can support in order to advocate for this vision of divestment. One way we can all show our support is by attending Divest Day of Action, an event beginning at the steps of Pomona’s Frary Dining Hall on Dec. 3 at 3 p.m., which will include speakers from students and faculty, marching and a banner drop. While Pomona may never be fully ethical with their endowment, we still must advocate for the college to, at the very least, avoid doing active harm with their investments. 

Nicholas Black PO ’24 is from Rochester, New York. He wants you to come to Divest Claremont Colleges meetings and tell everyone you know that Pomona is invested in fossil fuels. 

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