Tag Archives: Divest Smith College

Environmental Justice Radio

15 Dec

I created this podcast, Environmental Justice Radio, as an extra credit project for Environmental Integration I: Environmental Perspectives.


Context:

As I study environmental issues, ranging from the disruption of biogeochemical cycles to the economic and social costs of climate change, I find myself continuously returning to the interconnectedness of environmental and societal health. This concept reveals the disproportionate impacts of climate change on groups of people, often coinciding with racism, classism, sexism, and many other forms of oppression.

Since coming to Smith, the themes of my academic work have inspired me to independently research environmental justice in the United States. Attending the People’s Climate March in New York and joining the Divest Smith College network have been influential in my thinking about the intersectionality of social and environmental issues.

I have come to realize that all of the issues I previously felt passionate about are strung together by a not-so-thin thread.

This podcast is a small example of how climate change is not a problem affecting only distant “Others.” The impacts fall on people in our own country, and we need to raise their voices up. To me, one of the most important steps to sparking change is reworking the ways in which we communicate environmental issues.

– Callie Sieh, ’18J transferred to Smith this fall. She studies Environmental Science and Policy, and in her free time hosts a radio show on WOZQ, is an active member of Divest Smith College and explores coffee shops in the Pioneer Valley.

From Apple Orchards to the Big Apple, Smith Students Take to the Streets

23 Sep

Smith students rolled into New York City this weekend for the People’s Climate March, leaving the peaceful country setting of the College to raise our voices and join with communities around the globe demanding climate justice.

The People’s Climate March was slated to turn out just under a quarter of a million marchers in New York; the estimated tally after the fact exceeded 311,000, with hundreds of thousands more marching internationally in solidarity with the local movement. Smith sent a contingent of approximately 60 people–students, faculty, and staff who were ready and willing to take their commitment to sustainability at Smith to a larger stage.

DSCF5048

As we stood, packed shoulder to shoulder in the blocks preceeding the start of the route at Columbus circle, I bore witness to dozens of joyful reunions between friends who came from far and wide to converge at the March. All along the route I marched hand-in-hand with close friends who had traveled with Oberlin, Cornell, University of Chicago, and University of Virginia.

DSCF5018

Although students made up a massive part of the March, there were parents with strollers in tow, front-line community members, laborers, teachers, politicians, and celebrities to be sighted along the 2-mile route. Children wearing superhero costumes with cape lettering such as “Super Villain for Climate Justice” swayed on their parents shoulders; many laborers lifted signs demanding fair wages and food justice; there were politicians and celebrities who marched along the front-line.

DSCF5053 DSCF5083

This was a landmark event in the Environmental movement. Over the past few years I’ve heard the opinion voiced that effective, long-lasting policy change in terms of the climate will only come in the aftermath of large-scale destruction on a historic level as a result of the rapidly changing environment. I have shared moments working with environmental organizations and with my classmates here at Smith, in which the overall feeling of the group in terms of the movement has been so discouraged that we have just felt lonely, unimportant.

My feelings after the March were that maybe this was the historic event to change everything. I finally felt that we are not alone.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore student at Smith College from Alexandria Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food, and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread.

President McCartney’s Divestment Panel –

14 Apr
The article below was written as an op-ed for the Sophian in response to a February fossil fuel divestment event. That event, hosted by President Kathleen McCartney’s Office, was the third in a series of panels coordinated by CEEDS as a way to raise awareness and educate the Smith community on the topic of fossil fuel divestment. In the interest of full disclosure I want to say up front that though I am a CEEDS intern, I am also a member of the student org Divest Smith College, and one of the co-authors of the article. I hope you find it informative!  -Savannah Holden, ’16
 

On Monday, February 24th, concerned members of the Smith community literally filled the Carroll Room to discuss the relationship between the college’s endowment and the fossil fuel industry. President McCartney’s office sponsored the panel discussion in response to the growing movement on campus to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Attendees hoped to hear about the social responsibility of Smith, but the conversation focused on the financial structure of endowments. The panelists and administrators who spoke failed to place our endowment in the context of Smith’s institutional power and failed to address the political statement we are making by investing in the fossil fuel industry.

After publicly recognizing the threat of climate change, Smith created the Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan, which details how Smith will reach carbon neutrality by 2030, although it does not mention investments. In the past, Smith recognized the political statements made by our assets and divested from companies operating in Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s, and in Sudan in 2007. By refusing to recognize the implications of investment in the fossil fuel industry, Smith is making a statement that our institution supports the harmful practices of fossil fuel companies that result in community and environmental destruction, while simultaneously perpetuating climate change.

Divest Smith College, a network of concerned students, advocates that Smith cease investing our endowment funds in the fossil fuel industry, because Smith has the responsibility to reflect institutional values in its financial decisions. This divestment campaign is backed by strong support from the student body, a third of whom have signed a petition advocating for divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

Displaying SCD logo.jpg

President McCartney’s panel featured Peggy Eisen, chair of the Investment Committee on Smith’s Board of Trustees, Alice Handy, founder and CEO of Smith’s investment management firm Investure, and Bob Litterman, chairman of the risk committee of Kepos Capital. Smith is Investure’s first and largest client and because of this, enjoys a reduced fee structure, as well as Investure’s impressive returns history. Ms. Handy emphasized that the system Investure and many other management firms use is layered and complex. Funds from Smith College and 11 clients are pooled together before being given to different fund managers. These individual fund managers then invest in a wide variety of companies, but Ms. Handy stated she does not want to restrict their investment practices. Despite the fact that only 6.5% of our $1.71 billion endowment is invested in fossil fuel holdings, Ms. Handy argued that 70% of our endowment would have to be sold in order to ensure complete divestment as she doesn’t know exactly how individual fund managers are choosing to invest.

Bob Litterman rounded out the panel by addressing the issue of coal and oil sands investments within an endowment portfolio from a solely financial perspective. Mr. Litterman discussed a tactic he used a member of the investment committee of the Board of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that lowers risk and gives an institution a vested stake in ensuring that we all begin to pay the true price of burning fossil fuels. WWF’s endowment has instituted a “total return swap” on particular fossil fuel stocks held within their investment portfolio, which is essentially a bet that current holdings will be unprofitable in comparison to a broad market index such as the S&P 500. The total return swap serves two purposes common with divestment. It lowers the risk of existing fossil fuel holdings, and, as Mr. Litterman put it, “aligns the mission of the institution of the portfolio” by ensuring a greater stake in securing a price of carbon in the near future. This is not a strategy that divests an endowment from fossil fuels, and, as he stated, is “a very simple approach; it is certainly not a comprehensive approach,” which still sends a mixed political message. Ultimately, the panel failed to address one of the most important issues that the Smith community came to hear: why does Smith continue to have an investment policy that does not align with its institutional values?

After the presentations concluded, President McCartney opened the floor to questions. Students and professors responded with concerns about the statement Smith is making by continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry. Michael Klare, a Five Colleges professor, stated that “these [fossil fuel industry investments] are toxic assets that you’re holding on to and should be gotten rid of, not only because they will become worthless in time but because, to protect the college itself from environmental destruction, it’s necessary to send the message that everybody should divest of these companies because these companies are a threat to the survival of the planet.” Immediately, the entire room burst into applause.

It is also important to acknowledge that there is no inaction here; continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry sends a message that conflicts with Smith’s political goal to seek solutions to climate change. Smith College has the power to draw attention to the destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry and change the way society views these companies. As a prestigious institution, Smith divesting would send a strong message that the fossil fuel industry is an unacceptable investment. When questioned, the panelists offered no plan for how Smith will pressure policymakers to institute incentives that will force fossil fuel companies to act more responsibly, although Mr. Litterman admitted that “we are wasting a scarce resource…the atmosphere’s ability to safely absorb carbon emissions…that is wrong. The way to correct that is to price emissions appropriately.” Unfortunately, those of us who follow international climate negotiations and domestic environmental politics recognize that the fossil fuel industry has powerful influence on policymakers, which impedes the creation of a price on carbon. Divestment effectively revokes the social licence of fossil fuel companies and pushes our government toward more responsible energy policies.

During the question and answer session, Ms. Eisen said that disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry is “definitely a possibility.” Ruth Constantine, our Vice President for Finance, excused Smith’s inaction because “in a way, we are waiting for the investment community to change.” Because of its advantageous position in Investure, Smith College has the unique ability to push for this change to happen now – and we cannot afford to wait. The fossil fuel industry poses an immediate and extreme threat to communities around the world. This danger only increases over time- even as Smith College’s administrators deny our tacit support of this industry and the potential that divestment has to protect our endowment while promoting a shift away from fossil fuel companies. Divest Smith College will continue to push for a socially responsible investment policy and hopes that you, as members of the Smith community, will join in this important dialogue.

Written and edited by Ellen Monroe (’15), Anna George (’17), Savannah Holden (’16), Eleanor Adachi (’17), Jessie Blum (’15), Fiona Druge (’14), Emma Swartz (’16), and Kim Lu (’17)

 

Fossil Fuel Divestment: Good for Smith, Good for the World?

1 Nov
Last Friday, CEEDS hosted the first in what will be a series of campus community discussions about Fossil Fuel Divestment. The series, inspired by the positive experiences of CEEDS-led faculty learning circles about the Deep Water Horizon disaster and sustainable food, is being planned similarly– with each gathering building on the next, following the threads of shared conversation and questions raised by participants. The goal of this first event was to lay the groundwork for the longer conversation, and since it was students in the Divest Smith College (DSC) org who have proposed that the College divest, it made sense that they should be the ones to help frame the issue. After a welcome by CEEDS Faculty Fellow James Lowenthal, members of DSC gave a 15 minute presentation about some of the the dangers of fossil fuels, the history of divestment and its place at Smith, and why DSC students believe that fossil fuel industry divestment is the right choice for the College. The presentation was followed by 20 minute round table discussions (facilitated by members of DSC) with the approximately 100 attendees.   

IMG_1668Divest Smith College students set the stage…  IMG_1680                          for the community conversation                          

I first heard about divestment from fossil fuels a little under a year ago in my micro economics class, when one of my classmates mentioned the movement in a discussion about economics and the environment. What prompted me to follow up with her afterwards, and eventually become involved in the movement myself, was the incredibly exciting notion that environmental activism is not just about recycling, light bulbs, and sustainable food (though those things are very important!). It is also about the corporate world, it is about assets, and about where we put our money. Fossil fuel companies inflict immeasurable damage on not only the environment, but also on people. This damage is observable in every stage in the life of fossil fuels: through extraction, processing, to the use of coal, oil, and natural gas. These effects are not only felt by the people and the environments of these extraction communities, but by everybody, in every area of the world. It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the realities of climate change, and it will become more difficult as time goes on.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition defines divestment as “the act of selling all of one’s shares of a given company or type of asset for an explicit political or social reason”. College and university endowments are like savings accounts, and their operating budget is made up in part by the returns on the endowment investments. If Smith College were to divest from fossil fuels, that would mean selling the portion of our endowment that is invested in fossil fuel companies, making a public statement that Smith does not support their activities. Students at Smith began the divestment campaign about a year ago, at the time joining just a handful of schools in the effort. There are currently about 400 campaigns on college campuses around the world (most in the U.S.), and a number of organizations and cities that are also involved. Some of the schools/cities/organizations that have already committed to fossil fuel divestment are:

  • The City of Northampton (MA)
  • Hampshire College
  • The United Church of Christ
  • The City of San Francisco (CA)
  • Green Mountain College
  • The City of Madison (WI)
  • The City of Boulder (CO)
  • Unity College

Some key points about divestment and Smith College:

  • Smith is not new to divestment. The college has previously divested its endowment from Apartheid South Africa, the tobacco industry, and Sudan.
  • In 2010, Smith committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. The plan is called SCAMP (Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan) and is part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Greening the college’s endowment through fossil fuel divestment would fit perfectly into this already exisiting campus sustainability commitment.
  • The goal of divesting the College from fossil fuels would not be to financially harm the fossil fuel industry- college endowment investments in the industry are not nearly large enough to financially harm them in the slightest. The goal is to revoke their social license and stigmatize their harmful practices through a financially-minded campaign, much like was done to the tobacco industry 20 years ago.

1385765_209966822518449_1806145736_n

As a member of Divest Smith College, I was incredibly pleased with the results of this event. This is not because I believe that as a result of this single event that our new President and the Board of Trustees will necessarily decide to divest, but because it brought attention to the issue here on campus. I have heard more discussion about divestment from individuals not directly involved with the effort than ever before. Students, their family members, faculty and staff are asking questions. They want to know more. It brought attention to not only the issue of fossil fuel divestment, but to the question of sustainability in general. As more students and faculty pay attention to the ramifications of the College’s decisions and actions, the more they will pay attention to their own. This is incredibly important because we don’t really have a choice anymore. For the sake of human health and well being around the world, big changes need to be made. Whether the college decides to divest from fossil fuels or not, this movement as a whole makes a statement : every day, more and more people around the country and around the world are thinking about the impact of their decisions – food, transportation, housing, purchases, and investments – and how they can use the power of these decisions to positively impact the world. Because these positive decisions, to be perfectly honest, are our only chance.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

To learn more: come to a Divest Smith College weekly meeting (email sholden@smith.edu for more info) and check out the links below! 

http://gofossilfree.org/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/08/campaign-against-fossil-fuel-growing

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/07/29/divesting-from-fossil-fuels-means-a-cleaner-safer-and-more-resilient-future/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/opinion/global/the-climate-change-endgame.html

http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/05/16/after-bubbles-in-dotcoms-and-housing-heres-the-carbon-bubble/?mod=e2tw&mg=blogs-wsj&url=http%253A%252F%252Fblogs.wsj.com%252Fcorporate-intelligence%252F2013%252F05%252F16%252Fafter-bubbles-in-dotcoms-and-housing-heres-the-carbon-bubble%253Fmod%253De2tw

Related articles