BY JULIA KLUKOFF ’21, ANNA BAYNTON ’21, RAVEN GEIGER ’18 AND JOSS CHILDS ’21
The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition is an organization dedicated to fossil fuel divestment activism. Our ultimate goal is that Mount Holyoke College remove its money from the fossil fuel industry, and it is around this goal that our activism is centered. However, we have noticed that many students hold misconceptions about our cause and methods.
In order to understand our tactics, it’s necessary to understand the basics of Mount Holyoke’s financial affairs. The College’s finances are split into two categories: the endowment, which works like a savings account, and the operating budget, which works like a checking account. Hardly any money is ever withdrawn from the endowment. In fact, most colleges never spend more than five percent of their endowment a year, according to Investopedia. Instead, it is invested in order to earn the school more money.
According to the College Charter, the Board of Trustees has the ultimate say when it comes to where the endowment is invested. If you were to donate to Mount Holyoke, you would not know where your money was going unless you earmarked your donation specifically for a scholarship –– it might be invested in any stock or industry the Board’s financial managers see fit. Currently, against the overwhelming wishes of the Mount Holyoke community, that includes the fossil fuel industry.
The Climate Justice Coalition aims to hold the Board accountable to the student body’s desire for a livable future. Our organization asks that Mount Holyoke divest from the fossil fuel industry over a five-year period, during which it would pull its investments out of the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies, and reinvest in companies that do not perpetuate climate violence.
Not only would this be an environmentally responsible choice, it is also the only path forward that makes financial sense. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, fossil fuel markets have been lagging for the past five years, indicating the industry’s decline. As climate change worsens, fossil fuels will become increasingly untenable, and their stocks will plummet.
It is far better to invest in the future than in companies that are already dying. The administration and Board of Trustees have claimed that divesting would harm our finances and thus our financial aid. In fact, investing in fossil fuels is what poses this risk.
The Board of Trustees behaves as if finances are ethically and politically unharmful, but money is inherently linked to the government and to our capitalist economic system. Fossil fuel companies constantly perpetuate violence against indigenous communities, disadvantaged communities in the Global South and other vulnerable populations. Fossil fuel industries have perpetuated violence against these communities in several situations, one of which is at Standing Rock, concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline.
By divesting from fossil fuels, Mount Holyoke would join over 800 other colleges and universities (including Hampshire and UMass, Amherst) in making a statement to the fossil fuel industry that their actions are unethical, racist and colonialist, and that we want no part in supporting them.
Recently, the Climate Justice Coalition has been collecting signatures for an alum non-donation pledge. By signing the pledge, students and alums commit to refusing to donate any money to the College until it chooses to divest from fossil fuels. The goal of this pledge is not to financially harm Mount Holyoke.
We also are not asking students and alums not to pay their tuition and loans; the pledge only refers to voluntary donations.
Our goal with the non-donation pledge is to force the administration to pay attention to overwhelming student and alums support for fossil fuel divestment, which they have largely ignored up to this point.
Fossil fuel divestment would be both a morally and a financially responsible decision for the College to make.
We hope this alleviates some of the common misconceptions about fossil fuel divestment, and clarifies some of the many reasons in favor of divesting. We hope you will consider joining in our efforts by pledging not to donate to Mount Holyoke until the College divests from fossil fuels.
For more information, check out the article on our website titled “MHCJC condemns the Board of Trustees vote,” in particular the sections “The Board Failed to Prove That Divestment Would Hurt the Endowment” and “How and Why Divestment Will Not Hurt Financial Aid .”
This article was submitted by the Climate Justice Coalition (CJC).