Reasons to Divest

By Sophie Vaughan

We are in a different place than we were last time. During the last public divestment from fossil fuels campaign, that is. Personally, as a first-year last year, the word “divestment” seemed taboo on this campus and I could not fully wrap my head around it. On the one hand, it was sullied because of its connection to previous activist events and a strong, but divisive, campaign that rocked the campus the year before. 

However, whenever I spoke with students about the idea of divestment or related issues, we could almost always agree it was an important step to take. In fact, in a student survey administered by the Student Government Association last year 70 percent of student respondents agreed that Middlebury should not be invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Throughout the year I participated in the Socially Responsible Investment Club (SRI), which successfully held a weeklong event with speakers from the business and financial sectors. Additionally, we worked behind the scenes speaking with administrators, Investure (Middlebury’s money manager) and the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees to figure out how we can better invest our endowment in a way that retains comparable returns while considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. 

The necessity of divestment from fossil fuels, however, continued to haunt me and many others in SRI as we realized a saddening truth: we were letting our perception of the last divestment campaign cloud our understanding of, and commitment to, the plain and simple goal itself: divestment from fossil fuels. 

The Sunday Night Group (SNG), an environmental group here on campus, has also been working to reboot the divestment campaign. One of several active first-years in SNG Hazel Millard ’18 explains why she was drawn to join the efforts:

“As a senior in high school, I applied to Middlebury College because I wanted to be a member of an institution that was thinking about the immediate and global environment. As a freshman in college, I joined SNG because I wanted to be part of a community on this campus that wanted to impact change.”

Divesting Middlebury’s endowment clearly is the next step. On the brochures I read last year, the claims of “carbon neutrality by 2016” and “one of the most sustainable campuses in the United States” encouraged me to learn more. A logical addition would be “divested from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.”

We, SRI and SNG, have joined forces in pursuit of divestment and ask that the students, faculty, staff, alumni and administration shed any preconceived notions about what divestment means and see it for what it is. It is too important not to.

Divestment means taking ownership over our collective future and not abiding by the status quo of the fossil-fuel economy. It means acknowledging that our reliance on and consumption of fossil fuels is causing damage to the climate and marginalized populations around the world. It means having the audacity to envision a sustainable future and harness our power as students to the fullest extent possible to send a message to politicians, markets and the broader community that we must divest from fossil fuels and invest in the foundations of a healthy economy.

Much has changed in the last two years. We as student activists are collectively stronger and bound by a set of principles for this new movement. Additionally, the national movement has progressed tremendously. Cities, foundations and other colleges and universities, such as Pitzer and Stanford, have already committed to divestment. Investment literature has continued to prove that socially responsible investments that screen out fossil fuel companies have higher risk-adjusted returns.

So we ask that you sign the petition to divest Middlebury’s endowment from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies (go/divestmidd) and put an orange square on your backpack in solidarity with Divest Midd. Become an active ally in this movement and help us encourage President Liebowitz to not pass up this opportunity to establish his legacy as an important leader in this movement.

We can do better. We can claim our future together and work to make sure that it is marked not by the consequences of our passivity, but by our adherence to a more just, environmentally sound and ultimately prosperous economy and society. For this, we must see clearly: go fossil free, divest.