Divesting means aligning Mount Holyoke’s values with our practices

BY REBECCA HUGHES ’18

In an email sent to members of the Mount Holyoke community on April 13, the board of trustees notified us of their decision not to divest from fossil fuels. In the email, the board used misleading rhetoric to explain their decision. They made it seem like divestment would jeopardize the financial security of things like financial aid, arts and athletics programs and world-renowned faculty.

The email explained that the endowment is invested in commingled funds (bundles of stocks from different companies) and one third of those funds include fossil fuel stocks. Stock in fossil fuel companies makes up more than 5 percent of the College’s publicly and privately-traded investments. The board claims that the risk of divesting from fossil fuels is greater than the desired impact on the fossil fuel industry. 

We know Mount Holyoke’s divestment would not have a significant financial impact on fossil fuel companies. Divestment is about sending a strong message about the College’s values. In their email, the trustees outline a commitment to sustainable practices, but this commitment means nothing if the money that allows the College to act sustainably comes from an industry that is responsible for the suffering of the most marginalized people in the world. Highly developed countries are responsible for 79 percent of total carbon emissions from 1850 to 2011 and yet are the most able to protect themselves from the effects of climate change. Those who live on coastlines in the Global South, those whose livelihoods depend on farming, and those who do not have reliable access to clean water do not have resources to protect themselves from rising sea levels, droughts, floods and acid rain. 

The web page outlining the College’s comThe web page outlining the College’s commitment to sustainability reads “Mount Holyoke recognizes that climate change is threatening people and ecosystems around the globe, and that without interventions that impact will continue to escalate.” If the College recognizes these threats, why won’t we intervene to mitigate the impacts of climate change? When Mount Holyoke divested from South African companies during Apartheid, it set a precedent for divestment on moral grounds. The college should follow this precedent. It would be immoral to remain invested in fossil fuel when we know that climate change is causing people to lose agency over their livelihoods. Let us not forget that the College exists because of students, for students. It is clear that the board will not consider students’ and faculty’s moral concerns and sees its financial obligations as paramount to the college’s mission. In a meeting with the Climate Justice Coalition last year, former president Lynn Pasquerella ’80 said “the board is the College.”  It is clear that the board sees students as means to financial gains and does not have a genuine interest in Mount Holyoke as a changemaking institution. 

The email claims that divestment from fossil fuels would be a financial risk for the College’s future. In reality, investment in fossil fuels is not a smart financial decision. Fossil fuel stocks are overvalued in the market because they include the value of carbon that cannot be burned without increasing global temperatures more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a level of warming that scientists have determined would cause irreversible climate change— including droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels that would destroy agriculture as we know it and therefore destroy our food supply. This has created a carbon bubble that is bound to pop in the coming years. Would you have invested 5 percent of the endowment in the housing market pre-2008 if you could have predicted its crash? By remaining invested in fossil fuel stocks, Mount Holyoke is risking both the endowment and our mission. 

Align your practices with your values. Mount Holyoke cannot continue to claim to be an institution of changemakers if we continue to do business as usual.

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