Divest Dartmouth nears 2,000 signatures on petition

by Paulomi Rao | 2/28/16 9:15pm

Started two years ago by Divest Dartmouth, the “Go Fossil Free!” petition has received 1,921 of its 2,000 signature goal as of last week. The organization aims to push the Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuel extraction from the top 200 companies by known oil, gas and coal reserves.

Divest Dartmouth, according to its website, believes that continuing to support companies that produce and profit from fossil fuels is not in the best interest of the College, the world and the climate. The organization hopes to “bankrupt the fossil fuel companies morally, standing up for the creation of a better future and denouncing the systems that continue to act to prevent this change.”

“Divesting from fossil fuels is the right thing for Dartmouth to do,” Leehi Yona ’16 wrote in an email while on a research trip in Canada. “Not only does it make financial sense — divesting would reduce our risk of exposure to volatile stocks — but it is also a moral imperative.”

In March 2014, Divest Dartmouth wrote to the Board of Trustees asking them for a meeting on fossil fuel divestment. In response, College President Phil Hanlon wrote that in order to hold a meeting with the Board of Trustees, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility had to write a report on the pros and cons of fossil fuel divestment. Shortly after, Divest Dartmouth presented to the ACIR in spring of 2014, and were told that a report would be ready by June 2014. Yona said the ACIR has still not produced a report nearly two years later. Two drafts were written, she added, but both were rejected by Hanlon.

Over the past year, Divest Dartmouth’s membership has tripled in size.

“We have been following all of the bureaucratic loopholes we’ve been thrown and have patiently been to over 20 of President Hanlon’s office hours,” Yona said. “We deserve, at the very least, a conversation with the Board of Trustees. We deserve a formal meeting with the Board, and a public one at that, neither of which we have received in our nearly four-year campaign.”

Laura Hutchinson ’19, another member of Divest Dartmouth, explained how her personal identity was one of the factors that motivated her to join the organization and show her support for divestment.

“The culture of Dartmouth really fits with the Divest mission in a lot of ways — we are a relatively progressive place with people who are passionate about the environment, the outdoors and sustainability,” Hutchinson said. “For me, it’s very important that the administration and what the school is invested in reflects the student body’s values.”

Hutchinson noted that the organization was primarily built as a venue to address students’ concerns, especially in a crucial period of climate change and global warming.

“With nearly 2,000 signatures, it really gives us some validity and means people are aware of our mission and what we are trying to do,” said Hutchinson. “We realize that this is an issue, and we want the administration to take our views seriously to consider doing something about it.”

An affiliated organization, Alumni for Divestment at Dartmouth, was started with similar goals.

Archana Ramanujam ’14, an alumni advocate for divestment, acknowledged that alumni perspectives are useful because alumni, unlike current undergraduates, have a continuous voice. In addition, she noted that the varied environmental and business experiences of many alumni make them resources to the College and students.

Ramanujam described the College’s investment in fossil fuels as a conflict of interest, questioning how the College can claim to be fighting climate change while not divesting.

“I don’t know how Dartmouth can say they’re invested in the future of developing its students if they have money invested in fossil fuels that can destroy the future of our planet and thus the future of our students,” she said. “It’s simply a conflict of interest.”

If the Dartmouth administration acts on Divest Dartmouth’s petition, it would not be the first time the College has divested. In 1989, amid apartheid in South Africa, the Board of Trustees stated that Dartmouth investing in South Africa was morally incompatible with its mission. A New York Times article from 1989 reported that the Board acknowledged the “great symbolic meaning” of the investments, and that the ongoing conflict over them took away from Dartmouth’s ability to pursue its educational goals.

Morgan Curtis ’14, a member of Alumni for Divest Dartmouth, criticized the power of fossil fuel companies and their actions to block legislation on climate change in an email from the United Kingdom.

“While we stand at the fork between two roads of the human story, increasingly facing the reality of runaway climate change, fossil fuel companies continue to deliberately obstruct climate policy, manipulate the results of academic research, corrupt our democracy and poison our fellow citizens, predominantly the poor and people of color,” Curtis said. “There could be nothing less responsible than our possibly profiting from their intention to extract and burn five times the amount of carbon that is compatible with continued recognizable human civilization.”

Ramanujam echoed a similar perspective.

“Dartmouth should divest because it’s supposed to be a leader in not only the field of education, but bringing in students who can really change the face of a sustainable future,” Ramanujam said. “If it really wants to lead, divestment is a great opportunity to show how invested Dartmouth is in the future and keeping the environment as intact as they can.”

Across the country, students and faculty at higher education institutions are advocating for similar divestment from fossil fuels. At Cornell University, molecular biology and genetics professor David Shalloway, along with a group of students, urged their Board of Trustees to divest the university’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry. As a representative for five school assemblies, Shalloway presented resolutions for Cornell to divest from 100 coal and 100 oil and gas companies.

To date, Cornell has not agreed to divest.

“Even though they have not divested, there still has been a greater environmental focus on campus,” Shalloway said. “Cornell wants to influence environmental policy on a national level. We want to be the green Ivy.”

He urged students to get involved with the discussion and look for solutions.

“When I was a student, the issues were civil rights, but this is a problem for the current generation,” Shalloway said. “For my own integrity, how can I not do the best I can for the future? My message to the students is stand up for themselves.”

Correction appended (March 2, 2016):

Due to a typo the original version of this article misidentified Morgan Curtis '14 as Mogan Curtis '14. This error has been corrected.