many college students, Vesta Davis had no idea, in
the fall of 2011 when she arrived in Richmond, Ind., as an 18-year-old freshman
at Earlham College
College, what she was getting herself into.
the REInvestment campaign
campaignbegan at Earlham, the goal was to convince the administration to
rid the campus of endowment investments in coal extraction companies. At that
point, Davis didn't know much about the coal industry, let alone how successful
the campaign would be.
two years later, Davis is in the critical stages of a movement to save her
college, to save her community and to save the world. Davis, along with her
many student colleagues, is a leader in Earlham's coal divestment
feel like I have just woken up in the past year about the current situations
(local) communities are put in against their will. It's not just coal that is
violating these communities (in Indiana), it's (communities) all over the
country and all over the world that are affected by major fossil fuel
corporations," she said. "Environmental Studies wasn't what I was
planning to pursue when I came to college. Over the last few years, there have
been a lot of different campaigns and groups (on campus) that affected my
decision. The more I got involved, I realized not only how (fossil fuel
extraction) affects the physical world, but how it violates human rights."
after spending a summer interning for the Environmental Protection Agency
Protection Agencyand preparing for another year on the climate change
battlefront at Earlham, Davis continues to work to get her college to commit to
divesting from coal, and hopefully, exploring fossil fuel divestment in the
Davis is not alone, the grassroots fossil-free divestment movement is spreading
like a virus — like an earth-shattering, taking-the-campus-by-the-gonads,
ideal-changing virus — thanks to Indiana students. For some campuses,
this virus hit before350.org and
environmental writer Bill McKibben's Do The Math
Tour. For others, the Do The Math Tour was all the students needed to encourage petitions, rallies, forums and
A voice for the
Earlham-graduate-turned-sustainability-coordinator Sarah Waddle has seen the
movement bloom at Earlham. Now as an employee, it's her job to make sure the
college is doing all it can to become sustainable, and that includes working
with student activists like Davis.
Earlham, being a Quaker institution, is governed by
committee, encouraging students, faculty and administrators to take part in the
decision making for the college. The Socially Responsible Investing Advisory
Committee (SRIAC) is tasked to evaluate the social responsibility of the
Earlham College Socially Responsible Investment Policy formalized the college's
intent "to minimize investing in the securities of companies whose
overall behavior results in irresponsible use of the natural environment and/or
denigrates the dignity of individuals."
SRIAC dictates Waddle's job duties, and it also holds her and the campus'
sustainability endeavors accountable.
has a long history of students being really active in campaigns about a huge
variety of things. The more that students can show the administration that they
really understand the nuances of how the college works as a business and how it
works as an organization — the politics of running a college — the
more they can show they have a really clear grasp on this, the more seriously
the college is going to take them," Waddle said.
the college is taking the REInvestment campaign
think that at this point we are not at any position to announce that the
college plans to divest it's endowment, but I think what we can say is that the
dialog between the students and the Socially Responsible Investing Advisory
Committee is going in a really positive direction and I would expect to see
really excellent moves being taken by the college in the coming year,"
is an enormous hurdle for most divestment campaigns at other universities, but
for the Earlham divestment movement, transparency is not an issue. However,
that doesn't mean the battle has been won. There is still a lot of work to be
done and Davis only has two years left to make significant achievements.
The next goal for the REInvestment
campaign? To get the administration to set a divestment deadline, then
take the campaign to the next level.
responsible investment organization As You Sow cites the following
disadvantages of investing in coal in its 2012 report "Financial Risks of Investments in Coal"
Risks of Investments in Coal":
¥ Capital expenditures for environmental compliance and
uncertainty about the cost implications of pending and anticipated
Persistently high construction costs.
Coal price volatility, rising costs for mining, and shifting markets all
placing upward pressure on coal prices.
Competition from low prices of natural gas and other energy sources, which is
exerting downward pressure on power prices.
Improved profitability and policy preferences for solar, wind, and energy
The slow pace of development of viable commercial
scale carbon capture and storage for coal plants.
knows there are options for reinvestment, but now she needs to make the
university understand that stable and sustainable clean energy options will
continue to flourish.
next big goal has always been to divest from coal extraction companies, but
overall I think fossil fuels is something we'd like to look into. Our official
request is in constant flux because we are continuing dialog with our
administration," Davis said.
putting together reports for the administration on social injustices due to
coal extraction to education on campus, Earlham is making strides to create a
Bensman of Earth Charter
Chartersaid it can be easier for grassroots
divestment campaigns to find more success on smaller, private and religious
colleges and universities than large public institutions.
think that the colleges that have religious affiliations where you can talk
about God, creation, care and earth justice, (divestment) really should be part
of their mission. Those are the colleges that hold the most hope. Once one
college in Indiana becomes the first to do this then there is pressure," Bensman said.
travels to colleges and universities around Indiana talking to students about
earth justice, sustainability and activism. He said the education of young
people is one instrumental factor in ensuring a less-hellish future for the
door onto campuses is through faculty members. I'm encouraging students that
whatever you feel passionate about as a citizen of a democracy that you want to
change, now is the time to go for it and be as courageous as you can be,"
Driving force for
the state, a fellow student activist, Carlie Vaughn
of DePauw University
Universityin Greencastle waits for the fall semester to start. It is an
especially vital time for her campus, for her campaign and for Indiana because
Vaughn is waiting for a response from the administration. Will they invest in
the world's future by divesting from fossil fuels or will they hid behind their
portfolio and wait for another school to be the first in Indiana to divest?
Earlham's campaign predates Bill McKibben's "Do The Math," the movement at
DePauw was spurred by this countrywide initiative.
started a petition in December of 2012; by April Divest DePauw had 600
signatures — at a school of just over 2,000.
DePauw's request is for the administration to immediately freeze any new
investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from
direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public
equities and corporate bonds.
said while the administration has been open to the discussion, transparency of
the endowment and public perception is the biggest issue.
are not very big and we are private, but we do have quite a bit of money,"
she said. "I'm hoping we can be a role model for other schools and that
the administration just wants other people to step up before they do. Five
colleges have agreed to divest (through the Do The Math tour) and the
administration at DePauw is not seeing that as a big impact because none of
those colleges are exactly like us."
like many other divestment activists, said divestment is not about students
giving the administration a new portfolio proposal. She said it's not about the
marketing plug that the campus has "gone green." She said it's about
social justice and righting the wrongs done to communities surrounded by
need to see this not as a movement about money. It's not about fighting the
administration. It's about fighting the fossil fuel industries and making them
the enemy and not the administration," Vaughn said. "People need to
realize this is against the fossil fuel industry. When you dive into it, you
can lose track of who the enemy is."
Ho, Great Lakes coordinator for 350.org, said
divestment campaigns can be a huge challenge for
students because many expect they need to be an expert on finance, investments
or bureaucratic institutions.
said that's not the case. Simply having a strong, loud voice and the passion to
hold people accountable for their actions is enough.
times we find that universities begin to bring up these concerns of how exactly
they are going to rearrange the portfolio and whatnot more as a way of avoiding
the actual question. More of these investment managers are paid more than
$100,000 a year and their job is to understand the investments. We can't expect
students to really know all the nitty-gritty of how to rearrange a university's
investment portfolio. But what we do know is that collectively as people on
this earth we cannot simply afford to put in the amount of money in the fossil
fuel industry as it stands," he said.
travels around the Midwest speaking with students and educating about 350.org's integral mission: encouraging
students to push their universities to divest from the 200 companies with the
largest carbon reserves, that can include coal, natural gas, tar sands oil and
activism has a long history when it comes to college students, Ho explained,
not only because as young people they have the most at stake.
a long history behind the grassroots activism spawned from small, dingy dorm
rooms on college campuses. When it comes to divestment, these young college
kids have a lot at stake. Their entire future is at stake.
we really want to avert the consequences that many climate scientists are
telling us — there is not much time left," Ho said. "Often
times it's really the young people that spark larger movements and we thought
that the divestment campaigns are something that can be run on every single
university in the country that has some sort of endowment. It's very scalable
in that sense."
Moving from the campus
to the community
the popularization of divestment through nationwide campaigns, the movement is
beginning to go beyond campus boundaries. The idea of divestment is spreading
of the summer of 2013, there were 17 cities that have committed to divesting
their holdings from fossil fuel companies including Seattle, Portland, Ore.,
San Francisco, Providence, R.I., Boulder, Co., and Madison, Wis.
said he wouldn't be surprised if that number grew significantly over the next
then it's gone beyond the university and has spread to divestment campaigns at
the municipal level," Ho said. "There are also a growing number of
religious institutions pushing for divestment along with art museums and
whatnot. We are seeing the movement rapidly spread to all sectors of society."
the fossil fuel industry receives an enormous subsidy from the federal
government, which driving common misconceptions of its relative market
competitiveness with energy sources such as wind and solar.
the divestment movement aims to change the public discourse on energy, causing
reconsideration of the role of fossil fuels in our lives and a significant
reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
connects very well with the stark reality that we simply cannot afford to burn
the amount of reserves of fossil fuels that companies own," Ho said. "There's a carbon bubble that needs to be
popped. That is why we are really going after the fossil fuel industry —
and at the financial level."
How can I start my own movement?
inspired, huh? You want to make a difference and hopefully change the world?
Thanks to tips from Earlham student Vesta Davis and
DePauw student Carlie Vaughn, you can. The two
campaign leaders want you to ask yourself these following questions. Once you
have those questions honestly answered, you'll be ready to build a
"How To" guide for grassroots divestment
are you passionate about this?
much time do you want
to put into this?
kind of groups do you want
to work with?
Where do you want to see your administration/government take this?
can you make the campaign unique to what your campus/city needs?
Understand your bureaucracy
How do you get a change made in your institution? What is the chain of command? What do you know about those people in that chain? Answering those questions and understanding the way of thinking will help you plan and customize your campaign to be the most effective it can be.
Build a support system
Who do you know will take the time and effort to commit to the campaign? How do you plan on gaining new activists? How do you plan on keeping that support system? Remember, no campaign to save the world is ever easy. You need people that are willing to commit to the cause and keep going no matter what roadblocks the group endures.
Look for ways to spread the word
more the merrier, right? If that's the case, you will need to build your
following of activists. From rallies to forums and education to training, the
louder the voice of the group the more you will be heard, and taken seriously
by your institution.
Remember your purpose
lose focus during your campaign. Find your mission and stick with it. As DePauw
student Carlie Vaughn said, it can be easy to forget
who the real enemy is. Remember, divestment campaigns are up against the fossil
fuel companies, not the university president, not the city mayor.
ready to start your own movement? It doesn't take much to get a campaign off