Time To Divest from Fossil Fuels

With a little help from noted climate change expert Bill McKibben, environmental activists at the Claremont Colleges have started a campaign that deserves the support of the entire 5C community. We hope that 5C administrators and trustees will be receptive to the arguments presented by the 5C Divestment Campaign, which calls on the colleges to freeze, and eventually withdraw, investments that make fossil fuel companies more profitable.

In an editorial last month, we called on the 5C administrations to consider environmental harm reduction as a major priority—though not the only priority—in their landscaping choices. We reasoned that although maintaining beautiful campuses is a worthy goal, our colleges should live up to their eco-friendly rhetoric by giving more consideration to sustainability in the future than they have in the past, even if that means making some aesthetic compromises. 

This week, we want to make a similar argument about the investment practices of the 5Cs. We appreciate the importance of making profitable investments that contribute to the long-term financial health of our schools, but it does not follow that colleges should make financial decisions without regard for their impact on the global climate. If the 5Cs are as serious about environmentalism as they claim to be—and we certainly hope they are—they should willingly give up any investments that directly help the fossil fuel industries to out-compete more sustainable alternative energy providers.

Divestment from oil and coal companies would be consistent with the education that 5C students receive. As liberal arts students, we are encouraged to become informed citizens who draw connections between what we learn in the classroom and what we see in the world around us. In academic departments ranging from geology to politics to religious studies, we learn about the looming environmental crises that threaten our planet and the available strategies to prevent them. We watch with dismay as natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy claim lives, and we look for opportunities to stop events like these from becoming the norm. If the 5C Divestment Campaign gathers strong support from students, our trustees and administrators should see this support as a welcome sign that we are taking our education seriously.

We recognize that investment decisions cannot be driven entirely by concerns about sustainability. It would be naive to suggest that our colleges should invest only in green energy startups and other agents of social justice. Still, we join McKibben and the 5C Divestment Campaign in calling on the 5Cs to make their investment decisions as consistent as possible with the values they teach their students.

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