Divestment: More Than Distraction

On Sept. 15, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an op-ed entitled “Divestiture is Nothing
but a Distraction”—written by Pomona College President David Oxtoby. 

Divestiture, or divestment,
refers to a campaign college students began on campuses across the
United States in 2011 to remove fossil fuel investments from colleges’ endowment
portfolios.

We, on behalf of the 50 students of
Claremont Climate Justice, whole-heartedly disagree that divestment is a
distraction. Students in our 5C coalition seek climate justice, the reconciliation of climate destruction’s
disproportionate consequences on people of lower socioeconomic classes across
the globe. We see divestment as
completely aligned with our mission as well as with a greater student-led climate
movement. We want to address three misconceptions of divestment that President
Oxtoby reveals in his article.

First, President Oxtoby
contends that “symbolic actions” such as divestment are not worthwhile because
they have “no effect on actual greenhouse-gas reductions.“ For President Oxtoby, ‘real change’ is carbon
reductions at the individual or institutional level.

For us, ‘real change’ is
carbon reductions across a fossil-fueled political economy. We find it
impossible to achieve significant change in the current fossil fuel consumption
paradigm. We believe a grassroots climate movement can incite the political
support necessary to shift away from fossil fuels. 

Only by creating
overwhelming support for climate change abatement will changes be represented
in policy. We are tackling political change from the bottom up, by creating
awareness through newspaper articles and all the conversations they represent.

Second, President Oxtoby
suggests that we will have a bigger impact on climate change if we focus on reducing
the college’s carbon footprint.

Obviously, building LEED-certified
dorms and reducing water consumption are important steps. But at 397 parts per
million of CO2 in the atmosphere, it is far too late to rely on isolated individual or even institutional actions to sufficiently address the climate crisis. Only through coordinated
political outcry will we change the current fossil fuel consumption paradigm.

Given the choice between
replacing all lights on campus with CFL bulbs or organizing a divestment rally,
we elect to divest every time. Even if every student switched bulbs, we would
still be relying on an electricity grid powered by fossil fuels. 

Besides, how
can we rely on voluntary individual actions to coordinate behavior? Changing
bulbs does not inspire students to discuss nor challenge the current system of
energy production. Imagine if every student had a conversation about climate justice
before leaving Claremont; who knows the carbon reductions we can achieve from
the leadership positions we will collectively hold? 

Lastly, President Oxtoby expressed the belief that divestment impedes other environmental activism efforts.

Divestment created a unified
environmental movement on college campuses that previously did not exist. By bringing
together social and environmental justice, divestment appeals to students
across fields and interests in ways that strictly ecological efforts did not.
Divestment does not divert existing efforts but instead forms coalitions with, for
example, labor-organizing and indigenous student groups.

The impact of a new
widespread grassroots campaign has been overwhelmingly positive. With campaigns on over 450 campuses across the country, no other tactic has spurred the same
kind of coordinated young energy. Divestment is unique in the agency it
provides students to make a difference on their campuses while addressing some
of the greater systemic issues at hand.

To conclude, we offer a
question: Must we move beyond ideologies to create a climate movement?
Movements are built on strong moral commitments. Grassroots organizing and
non-violent direct action are tools for communicating these ideologies. When
you sacrifice, others wonder why. When a student from Harvard’s divestment
campaign was arrested at a sit-in last May, people considered what he could be
all riled up about.

On Sunday, when the heirs of
Standard Oil decided to divest their $860 million philanthropic organization
(the Rockefeller Brothers Fund), people took notice. Even they do not want to
be morally implicated by the fossil fuel industry!

Ideological bases provide
unity to social movements. When we fight for divestment, we stand with
campuses, religious institutions and city governments for a single cause:
climate justice. A unified political environmental movement already exists—what
else brought 310,000 people to the People’s Climate March in New York City last
weekend?

Divestment brought the
climate movement to the Claremont Colleges and will continue to bring
political environmental activism in the future.

Like it or not, the climate
movement exists through divestment. Pitzer demonstrated its commitment to
climate justice through a comprehensive Fossil Fuel Divestment-Climate Action
Model. Perhaps Stanford University’s sacrifices were minimal in its divestment from coal,
but at least it supported continued environmental activism.

Rather than criticizing the
movement in The Chronicle, Claremont administrators should find ways to support the greatest civil rights issue
of our time.

Student organizers are
finding multiple paths to address climate change. Claremont Climate Justice is
working on campaigns that include effective community
investment of Pitzer’s divested funds, scientist-community engagement near Los
Angeles fracking wells, climate justice education on campus and partnership
with the City of Ontario’s sustainability department.

Divestment is just one of the many things that we do. It
won’t go away any time soon. Those students who wish to join us can find us in
the Grove House at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. We’re still here, and onward we go.

Meagan Tokunaga PO ’15 is majoring in public policy analysis with
a concentration in environmental analysis. As an intern with 350.org, she
helped organize the Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign. 
Rebecca Boorstin PZ ’17 is majoring
in psychology and languages and is a member of the
Claremont Climate Justice campus education campaign. 
Christopher Eskilson PZ ’18 is
planning to major in English and environmental analysis. He is a member of the
Claremont Climate Justice Education task force. 

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