‘Divest for Our Future’: Another Voice Calling For Action

This is a contribution sent in by student group Divest for our Future.  If you wish to publish an article or Op-Ed piece on MiddBlog, please contact us at tips@midd-blog.com. Click “Read More” to see their full letter to President Liebowitz. 

In response to questions about student groups taking action on divestment issues at Middlebury, we would like to introduce Divest for Our Future, a group composed of students of all years committed to making fossil fuel divestment a reality at Middlebury.  

Divest for Our Future has focused this semester, and plans to continue focusing on educating ourselves and the student body and coordinating with schools whose endowments are also managed by Investure, Middlebury’s endowment manager.  We have been working with the national movement led by Middlebury’s own Bill McKibben and 350.org.

We are also committed to dialogue with the administration and submitted the following proposal to President Liebowitz this fall. 

We hope to engage all of the Middlebury community on this issue and continue the conversations begun this semester.  Check out the proposal and come to an open meeting Tuesday, December 4th at 7pm in the Gifford Lecture Hall to learn more about the movement and discuss our path moving forward!

Letter submitted for consideration to President Ronald Liebowitz:

November 20, 2012

By Divest for Our Future

We are Divest for Our Future, a student group born out of the Socially Responsible Investment Club and Sunday Night Group.

We hope to work with Middlebury College’s administration and Investment Committee to act on Middlebury’s commitment to environmental leadership and divest our endowment from the 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves.

We believe that now is the time for Middlebury to take a stand, as the college has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the growing national divestment movement and effect change beyond our campus.

We praise the institution’s commitment to dedicate “intellectual and fiscal capital to responsibly engage in this paradigm shift away from our fossil fuel dependency,”[1] and we recognize Middlebury’s past achievements in environmental leadership. Divestment is widely viewed as an effective tool in shaping public discourse and catalyzing larger change.  Thus we believe fossil fuel divestment is the natural next step for Middlebury, as the power of the commitment to Carbon Neutrality would be magnified by an inclusion of our endowment in the calculation of our footprint.  We hope to be able to celebrate a carbon-free endowment as well as a carbon neutral campus in 2016.

We ask that the Middlebury College Board of Trustees endorse a statement demonstrating the intention to work to divest our endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.  We recognize the importance of a pragmatic approach to endowment management and the complexities of divestment; therefore we ask for this statement to demonstrate Middlebury’s intention to lead the movement and begin work on the process of screening for the identified fossil fuel companies. We ask that this statement be made public following the February Board of Trustees meeting.

Respectfully submitted by the following Divest for Our Future members:

Gretchen Neubauer
Lucas Braun
Teddy Smyth
Jordan Collins
Katherine Hamilton
Luis Fernando Sandoval Jimenez
Alexa Beyer
Assi Askala
Rebecca Berry
Jeannie Bartlett
Hilary Platt

[1] “Middlebury College’s Commitment to Carbon Reduction,” endorsed by Middlebury College Board of Trustees, May 8, 2004.


3 thoughts on “‘Divest for Our Future’: Another Voice Calling For Action

  1. The fundamental problem behind divestment is that unless you can get everyone to buy into the ideology, it’s unlikely to cause any real change and apply real pressure to the companies in terms of affecting their equity value. A shift in ideology and philosophy among a select group of people in the US doesn’t change the the profit generating ability of these companies; the world will still need fossil fuels and cheap energy, these companies will keep providing, and their cash flows stay the same. It doesn’t affect demand nor does it affect the bottom line. Any resulting price pressure on share prices simply invites non-ideological buyers to step in and pick up the slack.

    The best thing the divestment movement does is bring attention to the issue, but honestly there are more efficient ways to bring attention, and there are probably better goals.

    Government regulation and taxation are the best ways to promote the goals we want. It fundamentally “changes the game”, so to speak, in a way divestment doesn’t. A carbon tax provides real incentives for these companies to change behavior and adjust their focus because it directly affects their ability to profit, which in turn also does a better job in driving investors away. If investors knew that fossil fuel companies would get hurt by upcoming regulations and taxes, you bet they’ll run away, Middlebury’s endowment included. And if they want to bring those investors back, companies will need to restructure their business models and change their practices.

    So why not pressure Congress for new legislation? Raise money for lobbying, call congress, lobby for more research. Start a tea party or occupy movement focusing on new energy regulation and legislation. The divestment has a great message but a “mediocre” goal, and the result is inefficiency. Keep the message but change the method. Instead of focusing purely on ideology and symbolism, think about the world we live in and what will best cause change.

    (As for the apartheid example people keep bringing up, institutionalized racism and morality is very very different from something that literally makes the global economy go round. it’s not a very apt comparison, not in the least. Not to mention the divestment campaigns didn’t really affect valuations either, although they did raise awareness)

  2. Realistic,

    As you have identified, the most important outcome of this movement will be to bring attention to the fossil fuel industry’s role in perpetuating the status quo. Simply removing our money from this sector will not make the difference, as there will probably be someone willing to buy our shares in Exxon Mobile. The hope is that this movement will spread beyond the 100+ campuses that are currently running fossil fuel divestment campaigns. The hope is that it will spread and in doing so begin to stigmatize an industry that, as you have identified, receives extremely favorable treatment from the U.S. Government despite its extremely unfavorable treatment of people and our environment.

    The reason I am excited about divestment is because it isn’t lobbying or protests, but a new tactic that could be much more effective. This problem is real, it is urgent, and really, we don’t have time to keep lobbying and hearing that our representatives agree with us as they continue to vote against the environment and prove that reversing climate change is not a priority. This is coming from someone who spoke with Paul Ryan’s staff two years ago and was told that he agreed with me about the need for regulatory legislation. This fight is potentially bigger and more difficult to confront than any we have ever faced, and we need to find a new way to put pressure on a system that has proven it will not change unless we make it make it.

  3. President Leibowitz Announces Endowment Statistics and Addresses Possibility of Divestment in All-School Email | MiddBlog

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