Williamstown, MA – A coalition of over 500 Williams College alumni and students propelled its fossil fuel divestment movement into high gear yesterday, delivering a formal proposal to the school’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility. The coalition is seeking a College decision by the April 2015 Board of Trustees’ meeting to eliminate all direct and third-party investments in the 200 largest fossil fuel companies within five years.
Student leader Tara Miller explained that climate action is necessary and divestment is a place where Williams College can take leadership. “We’re at the edge of a climate catastrophe, but also an opportunity to lead and innovate. I want to see Williams step up to that challenge, and we can start with divestment.”
The proposal makes the case for divestment based on the unequivocal scientific evidence supporting rapid and far-reaching action to curb fossil fuel use, basic ethical demands to safeguard ecosystems and vulnerable populations, evolving approaches to wise investing and fiduciary responsibility, and the College’s own assertions about its mission and values.
Mike McGinn, a Williams alumnus, explained why he helped Seattle divest of fossil fuels when he was mayor of that city. “Divestment offers a clear choice of the side we are on. Do we continue on the path we are on, or do we change? With what we now know, we cannot in good conscience support companies whose business model and stock values depend on dangerously disrupting our climate.”
This proposal is the first step in a series of planned events and actions aimed at prompting a dramatic shift in the College’s investment policies. These moves follow a protracted campaign to shine a light on the negative impact of the College’s present investments. To date, the coalition has reached out personally to College administrators, mounted online petitions, organized on-campus events, a webinar on divestment, and even a hunger strike.
“Climate change is the most significant environmental and social justice issue of our time and it calls for a serious response,” said Daniel Shearer, one of the group’s alumni leaders. “We see divestment one piece of this response. It’s about revoking the social license to pollute. It’s about withdrawing public support from the industry most responsible for climate disruption.”
The divestment movement is gaining steam nationally. To date, fourteen colleges and universities have committed to divestment, as well as thirty-four cities, two counties, sixty-five religious institutions, and thirty-seven foundations and other institutions.
University trustees have often claimed that fund managers are reluctant to divest, but even that argument is beginning to crumble. At Swarthmore, one of Williams’ strongest competitors, Fund Manager Cambridge Associates is now open to divestment action.
“It’s time for the premier small liberal arts college in the country to catch up,” said Steve Kaagan, a ’65 grad who also holds an honorary degree from Williams. “We’ve come together across the generations to help make sure that happens.”