Letter to the Editor: A Collision Course With a Problem of Our Own Making

Cross-posted from the Swarthmore Daily Gazette 

It was with shock that I discovered in a New York Times article last spring that Swarthmore College holds investments in the coal industry.  A Quaker college, located in a state that has been devastated by mountain top removal, has investments in coal?  Upon further investigation, I learned that, even though Swarthmore students were the first in the nation to call for divestment, the Board of Managers had announced it would not divest from fossil fuels, including coal, but also oil and gas.

Now that I have been rudely awakened from my ignorance about what is going on at Swarthmore, I feel the need to speak out about the reluctance on the part of the Board of Managers to do everything in its power to address climate change.

At Reunion last June, I spoke during the “Conversation with the President” about my deep concern for the planet and my feeling that divestment from fossil fuels should be among the many steps the College should take to reduce our burden on the planet.  From the response to my remarks, I gathered that many other alumni in attendance were in agreement.

I believe that for many alumni, especially those who are in their older years, climate change has become the defining challenge of our time, perhaps of all time.  We want to see climate solutions begin now, not at some future time that those in leadership positions at the College deem reasonable.  Kicking the can down the road will not work with this particular problem.

I applaud as a first step the recent announcement by Gil Kemp that the Board is asking their investment managers how they weight environmental impact against returns on investment.  I agree with the Mountain Justice statement, “If our Investments Committee begins to evaluate these threats, this can only lead to fossil fuel divestment.”

I submit that the College cannot afford to leave any stone unturned in its efforts to find climate solutions.  Yes, make College buildings more sustainable, find ways to use more renewable energy, tackle transportation, tackle public policy, but do not stop there.  This is a situation where “all of the above” applies, and divestment is both a practical and symbolic step in the right direction.  Our college, alone, will not turn the tide on climate change, but divestment on our part with the attendant publicity it brings can help give other colleges the impetus to face their own divestment decisions so that, one by one, we can become a movement.  If Stanford University can divest from coal, Swarthmore can divest from coal, too, and also from oil and gas.

The College I attended in the 60s was a leader in the civil rights and peace movements.  Students learned that it was not enough to read and to talk about a problem, we also had to act.  I fully support the Swarthmore students who are following in the footsteps of many generations of Swarthmore students who have believed in social justice and who were willing to speak truth to power.  Engaging the Board over several years on this topic shows tenacity and courage.  The recently begun petition drive and march have clearly made a difference in getting their message across to the Board.

When I returned from Reunion last June, I decided to put my annual donation to the College into the “Responsible Endowment Fund” where it will be held until such time as the College divests from the “dirty 200” fossil fuels.  This will be the first time in 45 years that I have not made my annual donation to the College, so this was not a decision taken lightly.  I encourage other alumni to consider taking this step, and make it as public as possible.  I have pledged to increase my annual contribution if the College divests.

I also encourage alumni to sign the petition for divestment at: https://swarthmorealumnidivest.wordpress.com/petition/

When I became a grandmother a few years ago, the reality of the future of our planet began to sink into my consciousness at a much deeper level.  Now, when I look at the innocent faces of these three young children, I fear for their future.  I am determined to do whatever I can to spread the message that we need to find climate solutions at every level—individual, local, state, national, and international.  None of us is exempt from this responsibility, including Swarthmore College, founded on Quaker principles and a leader in higher education.

We are on a collision course with a problem of our own making.  It behooves us to do everything in our power, individually and collectively, to make it right.