Ethical policy lies at the heart of environmental activism, and Connecticut College reflects this principle through tradition. The College has repeatedly proven itself an environmental innovator, with efforts ranging from the revolutionary Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment to our 770-acre arboretum. To continue the College’s historical commitment to protecting the natural world, divestment from fossil fuels is a logical next step. A small group of SGA members and environmentally conscious individuals have recognized this and taken the leap, dubbing their movement “CC Divest.”
Despite a seemingly clear path to progress, other environmentally aware NESCACs—including Tufts, Williams and Amherst—have continuously advocated for divestment and failed in their attempts. The narrative here at Conn is not much different. In 2008, for example, three faculty members proposed a general financial plan for clean investments that aimed to foster justice on campus. The coalition of professors brought in high-profile speakers, presented a report to the faculty and distributed information to the president for review, but ultimately walked away unsuccessful. Professor of Government and Environmental Studies Jane Dawson, a member of the faculty divestment movement, reflected on the shortcomings of the proposal.
“One, it was 2008, so the College was very worried about the financial situation and what was going to happen to our investments in general,” she said, adding, “A second reason was that socially responsible investing was fairly new, and the third was there were members of the administration, who are no longer here, who strongly opposed bringing these kinds of principles into our investment decisions, saying that investment decisions have to be made purely on the basis of what we think will make the most profit for the College.”Dawson referred to a notion that remains unknown to some students: colleges, like businesses and private individuals, invest in order to make money. The College’s funds are not only sourced from tuition, fees and donations, but also from endowment funds invested with the intention of a profitable return, which ideally results in endowment growth. CC Divest hopes that the College will cease to invest its endowment in the fossil fuel industry, an endeavor which formerly high profit margins in fossil fuels made difficult.
Despite past challenges and backlash associated with divestment, the students leading the movement remain refreshingly optimistic. Biology and Anthropology major Moriah McKenna ’17 distinguished between past divestment attempts and the current movement by reflecting, “Now is the perfect time to do it.” In addition to the current financial sense of divestment, she highlighted present administrative support, commenting, “The Vice President of Administration and Finance [Richard Madonna] seems to be on our side, which is kind of a huge deal. I think that makes it crucial to take it when we can.”
Student organizers of CC Divest emphasize divestment as a moral issue. McKenna noted, “There’s a lot of social justice issues surrounding fossil fuels. A lot of times people who have a lower socioeconomic status basically end up having to live in areas where they’re facing the brunt of fossil fuel waste and toxicity. These low-income areas also tend to be minority neighborhoods, which makes this an issue of race. Divestment goes along with our social values as a school to promote an equal environment for everyone.” The College touts community service, environmental stewardship, equity and diversity as core values, and it has a responsibility to demonstrate these principles in action with conscious investment.
Luckily, the economic circumstances for investment in fossil fuels finally seem to be turning in CC Divest’s favor. The College contracts an investment consulting company called Cambridge Associates which directly involves itself in the placement of investments. As a worldwide agency with trillions of dollars in assets, Cambridge Associates has a financial package available for just about everything, including ethical investment.
According to Dawson, “It is simply smart economically to be working to get the fossil fuels out of the system. Even if you look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they have taken everything out of BP, everything out of Exxon Mobil, and they haven’t done it for principle. They’ve done it because they see them going downhill in terms of returns. It is pretty arguable that fossil fuels are a dead end investment.”
It is 2017. Ethical investment is becoming increasingly mainstream, and the Connecticut College financial administration is open to suggestions. As Environmental Science major Gloria Miller ‘18 said, “I’m not a financial connoisseur or anything, but it makes more sense to invest in the future than invest in the past.” The students have spoken; an ethical standard has been set, and it is Connecticut College’s responsibility to meet it. To show support for the movement, students can sign a petition, which is circulating online and will be out in print in the coming month.