On Oct. 11, 2019, Smith College’s Board of Trustees voted to divest all fossil fuel investments from its endowments, stating the College’s goal to establish a closer alignment of its investments and values. According to Smith’s website, this will mean divesting 6.4 percent of its $1.9 billion endowment, which is indirectly tied to the fossil fuel industry. Activists claim Smith’s 15-year divestment plan is not fast enough, and that decisive climate action needs to happen now.
This news follows closely on the heels of a similar announcement by the University of California, whose investment managers announced in September that the UC system would divest both its endowment and pension funds from fossil fuels because these investments had simply become too financially risky. The University of California’s decision is historic — this will be the largest divestment of any public university to date. As the oil and gas industry continues its steady decline, the financial case for divestment becomes increasingly stronger.
We demand that Wellesley College make a formal commitment to ethically and responsibly divest from all direct and indirect holdings in fossil fuels by the end of the 2019-20 academic year along with disclosing a comprehensive plan to achieve this aim.
It is time for Wellesley Administrators to reconsider how we manage our $2.2 billion endowment, one of the largest for a liberal arts college of our size. Students — along with the majority of the Board of Trustees and Administration — do not know what percentage of the endowment is tied to the fossil fuel industry. Divestment is often dismissed as a merely symbolic act, as a single institution’s actions are unlikely to have a significant impact on fossil fuel companies. The action, however, can have a powerful aggregate effect by catalyzing a shift in culture that pushes other institutions to make similar changes. Wellesley should seize this moment to take charge as a leader in climate action.
Moreover, we cannot ethically make the argument for divestment simply as a financial decision. We must also recognize the student body’s concern for the communities for whom climate change has the most impact. For example, when the Class of 2021 was starting orientation, several students were stuck in their homes because of Hurricane Harvey. Only weeks later, Wellesley sibs with family members in Puerto Rico watched as Hurricane Maria devastated the area. The college’s investment in fossil fuel stocks is not just financially risky — it is morally obscene. Climate change’s various impacts, such as rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather conditions, will disproportionately affect vulnerable low-income communities, particularly in the global South. These communities are the least responsible for causing the climate crisis, yet they will likely be most the affected. Wellesley should care beyond the potential financial benefits of divestment.
Wellesley’s investment in fossil fuel companies enables their obstruction of scientific truth and denies green technologies much-needed investment dollars. Most significantly, by investing in fossil fuels, Wellesley College legitimizes the continuing destruction of marginalized and low-income people’s homes, lives, and land caused by climate change.
In the midst of vibrant climate action on campus — like the Climate Strike in Sept. 2019, protests for 100 percent renewable energy and the 2014 divestment campaign — it is time for Wellesley to take action in line with student concerns. We have a right to know what our endowment is invested in. Wellesley’s goals for divestment cannot simply be to balance the long-term budget for our endowment, but must also include a goal of fundamentally changing and reevaluating the ways in which we interact with and value each other and our planet. The Wellesley administration needs to remove the barriers between the justice values of students and the instructions that are given to the college’s investment managers.
Renew Wellesley is calling for responsible, ethical investment. Divesting from fossil fuels is a step in the right direction; however, we cannot allow the College to divest from fossil fuels and in turn reinvest in private prisons, pharmaceutical companies or other investments that actively harm both its students and marginalized communities. Wellesley must completely divest from fossil fuels responsibly by the end of this academic year: climate justice simply cannot wait.
Renew Wellesley is drafting a divestment proposal to submit to the Subcommittee on Investment Responsibility to encourage the formal start of the divestment process. We are hopeful that Administrators will take our proposal into consideration. We would love to have student input or feedback on how you would like divestment to look.
Our Wellesley degrees will be worthless in a world devastated by climate change.
We have attached a tinyurl link to our petition, which we encourage you to read. Sign if you agree: https://tinyurl.com/wellesleydivest.