Gabbi Zutrau '16 Contributing Writer
On Sept. 8, an email titled “Fossil fuels update” was sent to the students, faculty, and staff of Smith College from the Office of the President. The email informed the Smith community that the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees had voted unanimously to transfer $1 million of Smith’s endowment into a sustainable and global equities fund. The following is an open letter of response from Divest Smith College:
Dear President McCartney and Chairperson Eveillard,
When representatives from Divest Smith College met with select members of the Board of Trustees last spring, we vocalized our belief that divestment from the fossil fuel industry is the right choice for Smith College. This belief is reflected by the student body, as shown by the overwhelming majority that passed a student body referendum last spring, in favor of divestment. The unanimous vote by the investment committee of the Board of Trustees to transfer one million dollars into Investure’s sustainable global equities fund reminds Divest Smith College that we need to continue to encourage a dialogue on campus about why we believe full divestment from the fossil fuel industry is what is best for Smith College and for the world.
Our campaign is centered around the belief that Smith College has a moral responsibility to divest. The email focused largely on Smith’s value of sustainability, but Divest Smith College believes that investing in fossil fuels means much more than funding environmental destruction. We are financially supporting an industry that strips communities of the ability to thrive. In Holyoke, where there is a coal-fired power plant, one in four children has asthma. In Appalachia, where there is nearly unchecked fracking, strip-mining and mountaintop removal, some communities’ water supply is so polluted with methane that it can be lit on fire as it come out of the tap. Climate change refugees, fleeing their homes due to flooding and extreme weather events, continue to grow in number. Those who are the least to blame for this crisis will suffer from it the most.
The letter did not address that Smith’s continued investment in fossil fuels is not only unaligned with Smith’s values, but also financially unsustainable. The market value of fossil fuels is calculated with the assumption that all fossil fuels on record will be useable in the future. However, in order to keep the average temperature of the planet from increasing any more than two degrees Celsius, 80% of fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. By remaining invested in fossil fuels, Smith College is betting on a resource with value that will inevitably and drastically depreciate. Recently, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a former constituent of Investure, divested their 860 million dollars from the fossil fuel industry as a means of aligning their assets with their environmental principles. They are among a host of individuals, institutions and private investors to act as leading-edge movers who have committed to divest collectively fifty billion dollars from fossil fuels. If Smith is to “model solutions that contribute to a sustainable future,” we cannot afford to be less than at the forefront of this movement.
Divestment is ultimately the only choice for Smith that is environmentally sustainable, ethically sound and financially responsible. It is imperative that we communicate to the fossil fuel industry that Smith College will not stand for the destruction of the environment, the marginalization of human beings, or the corruption of our democratic process. We must refuse to take part in some of the modern world’s most oppressive systems, those that profit from the abuse of the planet and its people, and disproportionately exploit people with less money and people of color. As Smith College community members we must all work together to safeguard the mission and future of our institution while maintaining the financial integrity of our endowment.
Divest Smith College is excited to continue to work collaboratively with the administration, the Board of Trustees, and the larger Smith College community to encourage more dialogue about divestment. It remains our belief that divestment is the right choice for Smith, and we are eager to continue to push for a diverse and dynamic conversation about the benefits and tradeoffs of aligning our money with our morals.