over 20 students marched into Pomona College President David Oxtoby’s office and asked a simple
question: In light of Pitzer College’s decision last month to divest its endowment of
fossil fuels and lay out its ambitious plan to address climate change, will you
and the Pomona Board of Trustees reconsider divestment?
The president’s answer was a decisive no. He stated clearly that the decision
was not one for the community to make. In
September, the “no” that we received came with a $485 million price tag and was
cause for re-evaluation, reflection, and investigation. Now, Pitzer’s successful low-cost
divestment, along with research conducted by Pitzer finance analysts and members of the
Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign, suggests that that number was a gross
We can no longer accept “no” as the final word from Pomona. We
demand that inclusive decision-making take precedence over an inaccurate price
estimate and a Board of Trustees decision made behind closed doors. We
demand that our academic discussions of privilege and the United States’ responsibility
for climate change extend beyond the classroom. We demand that this liberal
arts college, established to prepare generations of students to become critical, innovative
thinkers, break free of the outdated mindset that climate change can be solved
by changing individual consumption patterns. We demand that Oxtoby and
the Board of Trustees seriously engage the Pomona community in a
discussion of our values and reconsider fossil fuel divestment.
For myself, when I read last September that divestment would cost Pomona $485 million over 10
years, my first reaction was that it would be hypocritical for me to continue to work
toward an action that might put financial aid in jeopardy, forfeiting my
ability and that of future students to attend Pomona. How could I encourage the
college to throw this money away on a symbolic action when they could instead
buy $485 million worth of solar panels? Up until that point, I had been a
participant in the divestment campaign, but not a leader, and I resolved to
stop attending meetings and give the cause up entirely.
But here I
am now, urging you all to reconsider. So what made me change my mind? Why
Climate change cannot be solved solely
through changing consumption levels.
many people, myself included, environmentalism has always been about recycling
bins and LEED-certified buildings. Al Gore and people with Priuses were the
activists, and their brand of activism was “renewable consumption.” But those
sorts of individual actions are Band-Aids on a broken leg, and they
aren’t accessible to people who don’t have the money to buy a Prius, the time
to volunteer for the annual beach clean-up, or the citizenship status to risk
arrest at a protest.
This kind of “individualistic action” was the mindset I was operating under when I asked,
“Wouldn’t it be better to just buy solar panels with that $485 million?” What I
didn’t fully appreciate was that the causes of climate change are far more
systemic, and that therefore systemic changes must accompany a shift in consumption habits. The
problem is not just that by using fossil fuels we are consuming the wrong
resources; it’s that our economy is based on a premise of infinite resource
availability and that the fossil fuel industry is spending billions to keep it
It’s time for wealthy institutions (and
nations) to stand up and accept responsibility.
too long, wealthy nations have preached about the necessity of changing our
lifestyles and reducing our carbon footprints without taking meaningful steps to
address the role their own privileged consumption was playing in the climate
crisis. Pomona has a chance, right now, to be a leader in a nationwide
movement with over 300 campaigns in schools, cities, and
states across the United States. The power of this movement is in collective
action—if Pitzer divests, then Pomona divests, then Stanford University divests,
then Harvard University divests … This is a powerful challenge to the social license of
fossil fuel companies that has allowed them to continue with business as
usual. With an endowment of over $1
million per student, Pomona is perfectly positioned to make a large impact
in this movement.
Divestment is a bridge between the climate
activism of today and that of the future.
The climate crisis
requires systemic change. Divestment is a bridge between the environmental
activism of today and the justice-based activism we’re striving to see
tomorrow. It is a symbolic challenge to the “money is money” mindset of our
investments, but it is also a challenge to environmentalists who remain trapped
in the mindset of individual action. It asks of our schools and cities and states whose future they are providing for. And it asks our leaders and presidents the key question: If
climate change is as serious as you say it is, then what are you waiting for to
Emily Hill PO ’16 is majoring in environmental analysis. She is an Organic Farm employee who has worked on the divestment campaign since fall 2012.