By Hadley Montgomery
In 2011, the University of the South made its first steps towards the idea of Divestment when Bill McKibben, an environmentalist activist, who is the cofounder and senior advisor at 350.org, was invited to speak at opening Convocation. 350.org is a global climate movement rooted in the motto that in order to preserve a livable planet, we must reduce our carbon emissions to below 350 ppm (parts per million). In the spring of 2013, Sewanee made a nonbinding resolution to endorse divestment of fossil fuels. The Sewanee Coalition for Responsible Investments is a campaign started to achieve the University’s goal of becoming carbon natural by 2030. After endless research, conferences, and spreading of awareness by Jordan Long (C’14), Clesi Bennett (C’13), Michael Grantz (C’13), Wallis Ahern (C’13), and Seth Morris (C’13), many steps were made towards achieving this goal. The Investment Club of Sewanee added a socially responsible Investment policy to their investments strategy in the fall of 2013. This policy noted that the investment managers would “attempt to avoid investment in companies significantly involved in the production or sale of fossil fuels and tobacco.” Fossil fuel divestment is removing investments from companies involved in extracting fossil fuels, in an effort to reduce climate change. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, a fossil fuel is a fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) that is formed in the earth from dead plants or animals. The problem with these fuels is that, when burned, they release heat-trapping gasses, which are the main cause of the increase in our global atmospheric temperatures.
Sewanee and many other institutions invest billions of dollars into these fossil fuel companies to generate income. The problem with investing in companies that extract fossil fuels is the end result: adding to the pollution of the ever-changing climate of the Earth. It is wrong to damage Earth; therefore, it is wrong to profit from these damages. The divestment from fossil fuels movement encourages people to consider changing their current investments in these harmful fuels. According to gofossilfree.org, approximately 462 institutions are divesting their funds to more renewable energy resources like solar energy, biofuels, and advanced recycling. Of these 462 institutions making the commitment to a better tomorrow are colleges, universities, and schools. In April of this year, Syracuse University chose to divest from fossil fuels. This dream became a reality because of a student based group seeking the divestment of the university’s endowment. Thanks to the valiant efforts by these students, Syracuse University will invest its endowment in the development of renewable resources. Syracuse has a long history of supporting responsible environmental stewardship, thus the decision to divest meant a great deal too many of the students and faculty of the University. Like Syracuse, many universities making this indomitable effort are relatively small institutions with an active student body. Now, the Divestment Club of Sewanee is continuing to pursue the valiant efforts of 2013. Throughout the rest of this semester and next, look for tables in McClurg, a panel Photos courtesy of Zack Loehle discussion, stickers, fliers, and much more to further Sewanee’s learning about our divestment as an institution. As Bill McKibben gracefully says, “It does not make sense to invest my retirement money in a company whose business plan means that there won’t be an earth to retire on.”