Op Ed originally published at The Nation
October 8, 2019 by Emily Williams and Theo LeQuesne
Fossil Free UC fought for over six years to get the University of California (UC) system to divest from fossil fuels. But when we finally won last month, we found out from an op-ed by university investment managers in the Los Angeles Times, which tried to erase the vast movement that had forced this epic result—arguably the largest anti-corporate campaign in history.
So we write now to set the record straight: UC’s investment managers claim they scrubbed the system’s endowment and pension funds of fossil fuel stocks because they had become too financially risky. Fair enough; that’s been one of our arguments all along. But what drove thousands of students, staff, faculty, and alumni to organize over this last decade was not the finances. It was the moral obscenity of these investments. With climate disruption setting new records, we need to undercut the fossil fuel industry in every possible way.
Whether the Regents and administrators like it or not, this victory places our university, finally, on the right side of history. As Alyssa Lee, former Fossil Free UCLA member and the current director of Divest Ed, the national training and strategy hub for student fossil fuel divestment campaigns, said:
“Hundreds of other divestment campaigns across the country have seen the same kind of stalling, excuses, and false promises that the UC administration gave to Fossil Free UC. But now that they, as the largest school system in the country, are divesting, we see that victory is not only possible but on the horizon.”
Originally published at Huffington Post
October 2, 2019 by Adam Weymouth
Rachel Heaton understands better than most the power banks have to shape our world. Heaton, a member of the Muckleshoot tribe, started to make the connection between money and climate change as an activist against the oil pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota.
She was one of a group of activists who identified Wells Fargo as the principal bank investing in the controversial pipeline that passes under the Missouri River, the source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply. Their 2016 campaign, organizing pickets outside dozens of the bank’s branches in their home city of Seattle, ultimately persuaded the city to close its account with Wells Fargo in February 2017. (Although Seattle did eventually go back to the bank, for lack of other options.)
Following this campaign, Heaton co-founded Mazaska Talks — mazaska is the Lakota word for “money” — in January 2017, an indigenous-led alliance aiming to bring people together across the country to demand cities pull their money away from the Wall Street banks that finance fossil fuels.
“What we’re pushing to get back to are those values of respecting Mother Earth, and understanding that if we allow these banks and these fossil fuel companies to continue exploring and taking these resources, we are no longer going to have a Mother Earth,” Heaton said.
Universities have often been at the forefront of pushing for social change. They’ve led divestment campaigns against tobacco and apartheid in the past. As long-term investors with a social mission, they are obvious institutions to take up the current divestment movement, said Alyssa Lee, the director of campus programs at Divest Ed, an organization supporting over 75 U.S. college divestment campaigns.
Now, the divestment campaign has moved far beyond college campuses. Climate strikes took place around the world last month, involving more than 6 million people across 185 countries, demanding the end of fossil fuels and a move to renewable energy. Lee sees that the role of divestment as key. “If you want to see the climate strike demands being met, one of the necessary steps is to call out the role of the financing and the investment in the fossil fuel industry,” said Lee.
Originally published at The Harvard Crimson
September 27, 2019 by By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan
The Ad Hoc Committee for Harvard Divest — a group of Harvard alumni advocating for the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels— raised $60,000 to hire two coordinators for alumni activities through the Cambridge climate group Better Future Project.
The committee raised money for Better Future Project to hire former College students and divestment organizers Canyon S. Woodward ’15 and Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, who is also a Maine State Representative, according to former United States Senator and Ad Hoc Committee member Timothy E. Wirth ’61.
Wirth said the group is continuing to push the University to divest from fossil fuels through the creation of these new positions.
Both Woodward and Maxmin officially work for the Better Future Project — headed by Executive Director Craig S. Altemose — but focus their efforts specifically on Harvard. The pair is involved with the group’s Divest Ed project, which works to expand the fossil fuel divestment campaign on college campuses.
Originally published at Waging Nonviolence
September 19, 2019 by Nick Engelfried
It began as a call to action from a group of youth activists scattered across the globe, and soon became what is shaping up to be the largest planet-wide protest for the climate the world has ever seen.
The Global Climate Strike, which kicks off on Sept. 20, will not be the first time people all over the world have taken action for the climate on a single day. But if things play out the way organizers hope, it could mark a turning point for the grassroots resistance to fossil fuels.
“Strikes are happening almost everywhere you can think of,” said Jamie Margolin, a high school student from Seattle who played a role in initiating this global movement. “People are participating in literally every place in the world.”
Activists are also planning for how to carry momentum from the strike forward into other youth-led movements. “Dismay at government inaction has led people to get involved in the climate strikes,” said Gracie Brett of Divest Ed, which works with over 70 campus-based fossil fuel divestment campaigns. “This same urgency has led to the divestment movement getting a second wind recently. It offers an opportunity to be involved beyond the strike.”
Op Ed originally published at Newscoop
July 2019 by Katie Collier, a student at University of Pennsylvania
Universities have long been seen as the face of progress, innovation, and a general sense of moving the world into the future. However, many of these academic institutions do not reflect those same values when it comes to the industries in which they choose to invest. The fossil fuel industry is one of the most significant contributors to the climate crisis. Many of our universities support that industry’s explicit destruction of the earth by investing our university endowments in it.
To put it simply, our universities are funding climate change — the very crisis that affects not only the livelihood and future of their students, but also those of billions of innocent people.
Campus fossil fuel divestment still has progress to make. However, through organizations like Divest Ed in the United States, greater coordination is occurring across campus groups to mount bigger actions and garner greater public attention.
This blog post is written by Jessie Kinsley, an organizer with Brandeis Climate Justice and a 2019 Divest Ed Fellow participating in our summer program! It was originally published for Brandeis's World of Work Fellowship.
Group Photo of our Divest Ed 2019 Organizing Fellows at our June Retreat in New Hampshire! (Photo Credit: Jordan Mudd)
This summer I am interning with Divest Ed, a program of Better Future Project: a Massachusetts-based nonprofit aimed at addressing the climate crisis and the rapid and responsible transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Divest Ed specifically focuses on training student organizers in order to resource, vitalize, and broaden the fossil fuel divestment movement. This past year I have been a participant of the 2019 Divest Ed Organizing Fellowship, and will continue to deepen my work on fossil fuel divestment-related projects throughout the summer with other organizing fellows in my internship.
My experience in the 2019 Divest Ed Organizing Fellowship puts me at a particularly interesting position in terms of my summer internship. Unlike most internships, when I started my first day of work I had already met all of my coworkers, and had actually already spent a large amount of time learning, creating, and making decisions together as a team. The summer internship was kicked off with a fellowship retreat, in which myself and other organizing fellows from around the country met for 5 days to get trained and participate in discussions centering our various fossil fuel divestment campaigns. During this time we practiced consensus-based decision making, learned about principled struggle (informed by the works of Adrienne Marie Brown and Charlene Carruthers) and other important topics, and also made life-long friendships along the way. Oh, and we kayaked too!
The June Fellowship Retreat was held at Camp Wilmot in New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Shelby Dennis)
This retreat made it easy to transition into a workplace dedicated to imagining an 8-week summer project relating to fossil fuel divestment. Myself and the other fellows decided to split our efforts into 2 important summer projects: national escalation* and reinvestment**. Each project has a team of interns that are responsible for creating and facilitating a summer project centered around each topic. I chose to participate in the reinvestment team, and will be working to research reinvestment options and creating accessible resources for student organizers who wish to incorporate it within their divestment campaigns. So far it’s only been a week into our project planning, but we are already generating a running list of ideas to learn more about: financial arguments to engage in, local Boston organizations to start learning from, and a ton of resources created from community organizers who have extensive expertise in this area. It’s both overwhelming and thrilling to think of all the information we are going to be engaging with over the next few weeks, and I for one am grateful to have a supportive team by my side to do it with.
The Reinvestment project team hard at work. (Photo Credit: Jessie Kinsley)
When I first dove into activism, I held the idea that progress looks concrete: laws being passed, resolutions being made, cities being re-envisioned and demands being met. I still do hold that vision, but my time with Divest Ed has taught me to look at progress in a new way. Not only does the work we do have concrete implications, but the way we do them continually encourages myself and others to enact the future we are trying to create. The team that I am working with on reinvestment practices horizontal leadership: recognizing the different skills that we all bring to the table and implementing each one to the best of our ability. My “boss” is very much not my superior, and instead a facilitator who is helping support our vision for our project. And my favorite part of our work culture is the genuine love we hold for ourselves and the work that we do. Envisioning a new, regenerative economy is difficult and stressful work, but my coworkers and I continue to approach each other with compassion and honesty, and the vision follows.
I’ve spent the majority of my college career imagining my school’s fossil fuel divestment campaign winning, but I’ve spent very little time imagining what comes after. Through Divest Ed I’m learning that we must not only envision a sustainable planet, but a sustainable culture that allows for people to form non-extractive relationships with each other and the earth. I’m excited to continue fostering that culture and seeing what it can achieve in the next 7 weeks.
Group hug at the end of the June Fellowship Retreat. (Photo Credit: Rachel Schlueter)
* Link to the Facebook Event for the National Divestment Day of Action: https://www.facebook.com/events/2158186504240641/
** For more information on reinvestment: https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/reinvestment/
Op Ed originally published at The Johns Hopkins Newsletter
April 25, 2019 by Elly Ren
On Earth Day, University President Ronald J. Daniels made a few exciting announcements. The University has purchased solar offsets for two-thirds of our energy consumption, created the Sustainability Leadership Council and appointed a new director for our small and underfunded Office of Sustainability.
Overall this is a huge victory for the thousands of Hopkins students that have demanded that the University take climate action, especially since Daniels signed the White House Act on Climate Pledge in 2015. Administrators themselves have acknowledged that these changes were a direct response to pressure from Refuel Our Future, the climate action and fossil fuel divestment group on campus.
Since last fall we have been receiving guidance from the national organization Divest Ed, which is “a training and strategy hub working to resource, vitalize, and broaden the fossil fuel divestment movement.” As a result we are connected with fossil fuel divestment campaigns all around the nation and constantly sharing advice, strategies and tactics in order to be the most effective we can be.
This is an op ed written by Ilana Cohen, a first-year at Harvard University, where she is a leader of the Divest Harvard campaign, and a 2019 Divest Ed Fellow.
On January 28, Middlebury College moved to divest its nearly $1.1 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry. In the time since, a polar vortex has swept across the United States, claiming at least 21 lives in the Midwest. With global warming causing record-breaking heat levels, the freezing cold presents only one end of the extreme weather characterizing 21st century life as climate change becomes an imminent reality not only for those in front line communities but for a growing majority of Americans. If the dire forecasts of the latest IPCC report and National Climate Assessment are not enough of a wake-up call for our universities, perhaps these weather extremes can show the urgent need for climate action. Institutions of higher education must follow Middlebury’s lead in divesting their endowments from the fossil fuel companies at the epicenter of the climate crisis.
Divestment is not unprecedented. Only a few decades ago, college students successfully protested universities’ investment in firms conducting business with South Africa’s apartheid government. Since then, many universities have also divested from the big tobacco industry. Today, universities must again act to realize the moral principles they espouse. Investing in the fossil fuel industry and by extension, in its immense environmental and human costs, is not a passive action: complicity in an unjust and an unsustainable system is culpability.
Today’s students will disproportionately bear the burden of climate change as its effects become increasingly severe. That universities continue to leverage our futures for short-term economic gains is an abdication of their primary duty. As a student at Harvard, I am dumbfounded by the glaring hypocrisy of my university’s mission to “educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society” while refusing to display leadership of its own. With a nearly $40 billion endowment, Harvard is more than capable of pursuing sustainable and ethical reinvestment, yet it has remained intransigent about doing so.
Endowment managers often misrepresent divestment as undermining their fiduciary duty. In a report published last summer, GMO chief investment strategist Jeremy Grantham found that investors should not expect financial losses to result from fossil fuel divestment. Divestment may actually provide positive returns. An analysis by Corporate Knights shows that New York State’s pension fund would have earned $22.2 billion more had it moved to divest a decade earlier.
Meanwhile, Harvard has continued to recite tired arguments against divestment that make less and less sense in a world of increasing climate instability. Often, administrators object to using the endowment as a tool for furthering social change, fearing its “politicization.” Yet investment itself is inherently political. The choice to invest in fossil fuels over the future of today’s youth is political one; it is an equally political but overwhelmingly more ethical choice to prioritize young people’s futures instead. Divestment can help depress shareholder prices in the fossil fuel industry but more importantly, it can diminish the industry’s reputation, as with the apartheid South African regime. Peer institutions like Middlebury who divest can inspire one another to follow suit, growing a greater movement for climate justice and institutional accountability.
While crucial for furthering environmental sustainability on campus, resource efficiency initiatives are no substitutes for divestment. Where a university puts its money is a critical litmus test of its commitment to climate action. Furthermore, as Middlebury has demonstrated, campus sustainability and divestment are not mutually exclusive. Beyond divesting, Middlebury’s board voted to mandate that the campus runs entirely on renewable energy and works to reduce its overall energy consumption by 25% by 2028. Such ambitious commitments must become a baseline. Currently, Harvard’s campus aims to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel-free by 2050. This admirable plan must be coupled with divestment to truly further a societal shift away from dirty energy dependence.
Already, over 40 American colleges have divested from fossil fuel companies, contributing to a net $8 trillion in global divestment commitments from the industry and reflecting a greater youth-led movement for climate justice. Around the world, tens of thousands of teenagers are leading school strikes for climate action. A few weeks ago, students at Harvard, Boston College, Northeastern, and Boston University came together in joint protest of fossil fuel investments. And this spring, Divest Harvard activists are planning vast cross-campus mobilization efforts as part of Harvard Heat Week (April 22nd-26th), a week-long series of actions to turn up the heat on Harvard to commit to total and immediate divestment by Earth Day of 2020.
As Middlebury President Laurie Patton remarked, “time is of the essence” when it comes to taking climate action. Students must turn the inertia of institutions like Harvard into a rallying force. We must take our futures — and the future of our shared planet — into our own hands. We must not only call out hollow arguments against divestment but also show reinvestment’s transformative power and affirm our right to shape our educational institutions.
Our universities’ failure to act cannot become our own. It’s time to divest higher education now.
Originally published at Energy News Network
February 19, 2019 by Sarah Shemkus
Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vermont, announced in January that it would divest from fossil fuels after facing pressure from student activists aided by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Better Future Project.
The Massachusetts program will offer training and other services to student activists across the country.
A Massachusetts nonprofit has launched an initiative it hopes will help reinvigorate the campus fossil fuel divestment movement by providing training, coaching, and community to student activists.
“The movement still has a lot of work to do,” said Alyssa Lee, director of campus programs for the Cambridge-based Better Future Project, which runs the program. “It is still really, really important to keep going.”
The program, called Divest Ed, is an outgrowth and expansion of work the Better Future Project has been doing for several years. Campus divestment efforts — campaigns aimed at convincing colleges and universities to pull out of their investments in fossil fuel companies — have been around since the 1990s.
The movement gained momentum in 2012 and 2013, as national groups like 350.org and the Divestment Student Network began training, connecting, and supporting campus groups across the country. The Better Future Project did the same on a regional scale, working with initiatives in New England.
In 2017, however, these national groups stepped back from this work, Lee said. As national support scaled back and many of the original student organizers graduated and moved on, many campus initiatives began to flag. With its background in divestment education, the Better Future Project decided it was well-positioned to step into the gap.
“There was a hole around the climate justice demands,” Lee said.
The group spent much of 2018 planning and preparing, and, in October, Divest Ed was born.
The centerpiece of Divest Ed’s work is the intensive, one-year organizing fellowship. A cohort of about 40 campus activists — generally teams of two per school — is selected to spend a year learning all the ins and outs of successful organizing, from the economics of endowments to the logistics of planning an action.
“By the time they graduate out, they’ve learned the whole A-to-Z of how to plan a campaign,” Lee said.
This year’s fellows attend 20 different schools, from the University of Puget Sound to Boston College. Divest Ed likes to work with younger students, often freshmen and sophomores, so the activists they train have more time on campus to make an impact.
Fellows participate in two conference calls each month and gather for two in-person retreats during the year.
“We got to gather 40 super-passionate college divestment activists in one room and all learn from each other’s experiences,” said fellow Ilana Cohen, a Harvard College freshman.
Cohen is helping spearhead the second iteration of fossil fuel divestment activism at Harvard. The first campaign, she said, fizzled out in 2017. Connecting with a national network, she said, is particularly helpful as the revitalized campaign tries to learn lessons from previous efforts and plot a new way forward.
“Making those connections — the fellowship is invaluable in that regard,” she said.
Divest Ed also offers a range of coaching services and collaboration opportunities for schools not represented in the fellowship program. The organization hosts regular webinars, open to all campus activists, on topics such as negotiation and campaign strategy. It also holds frequent discussion calls, letting students share challenges, get advice, and hear about other schools’ successes.
The divestment campaign at Middlebury College worked with Lee in this informal way in advance of the college’s Board of Trustees divestment vote in January. When the students were given a list of the actions the board might take, Lee helped them understand the nuances and the financial terms. On other calls, they discussed campaign strategy. Lee also visited Middlebury to speak on a panel about the divestment movement.
“They were a really great resource for an as-needed consultant,” said Zoe Grodsky, one of the leaders of Middlebury’s divestment campaign.
Elise Leise / Divest Middlebury
The college announced in January that it would, indeed, divest from fossil fuels. And working with Divest Ed will help the Middlebury group amplify the impact of its victory, by allowing the students to share lessons and inspiration with a national network of campaigns, Grodsky said.
“When you keep being told ‘no’ over and over again, it’s hard to keep faith that it’s going to turn into a ‘yes,’” she said. “It can be really encouraging to hear our story.”
The approach Divest Ed is taking — combining education, communication, and collaboration — is a promising one for the fossil fuel divestment movement, said Sean Estelle, network director for the Power Shift Network, a coalition of youth-driven activist groups of which Divest Ed is a member.
“It fits in with a lot of other tactics and strategies that are going on right now,” they said. “I’m super excited about the way this new iteration of fossil fuel divestment work has been being very intentional about identifying relationships with other struggles.”
There are those who question whether divestment works. Academic research has questioned whether cause-related divestment campaigns cause any meaningful financial impact. Advocates of fossil fuel divestment, however, say the approach works largely by strengthening social stigma against the industry, changing society’s ethical judgments in order to eventually change its behaviors.
“It’s about uniting people behind the idea that it is morally indefensible to invest in companies that perpetuate the climate crisis and perpetuate environmental injustice,” Cohen said.
Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Sean Estelle of the Power Shift Network using an incorrect pronoun.
This is an op ed written by Jessie Kinsley, an organizer with Brandeis Climate Justice and a 2019 Divest Ed Fellow. It was originally published in The Brandeis Hoot.
Last semester, the Brandeis Board of Trustees voted to enact a 3-year suspension of all fossil fuel investments and promised to revisit the idea of full divestment after reviewing the results of the suspension. This decision represented a crucial win for the student body and Brandeis Climate Justice’s 7-year long fossil fuel divestment campaign, but the aftermath of the vote left many to wonder about the future of the campaign. Amongst the excitement of the first major response from the Board of Trustees lies a very concerning question for the student body: do we need to push for full divestment during this 3-year suspension period? The answer is plain and simple— absolutely.
Although many students might be tempted to encourage patience during this intermediate period, it’s important to note that patience is no longer an option when considering our planet’s current state. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in October 2018 validates this sentiment, warning that we have 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate conditions by introducing unprecedented changes to our society. When considering a 12-year time frame, introducing a 3-year suspension period is not only conservative, it is downright dangerous.
It’s also important to note that many other universities’ divestment campaigns have capitalized off of partial divestment wins. Take UMASS Amherst, which received partial divestment in December 2015 when the university divested $400,000 from the coal industry, only to win full divestment in May 2016. When Brandeis’ divestment campaign first started, student activists were ridiculed by the student body and the Board of Trustees as being too extreme, and now we have a board of trustees with divestment on their minds and 39 student organizations that have backed the campaign. More fuel to the fire, please.
And just so we’re clear here, divestment works. In fact, Brandeis has done it before. In May 1986, Brandeis divested $1.6 million from companies operating in South Africa as a part of the global Anti-Apartheid movement. This movement was critical in the success of 1994 when South Africa achieved majority rule through free and fair elections, where non-white citizens were given the right to vote. But this only happened because activists demanded their institutions take a stand against South Africa’s unjust regime. In holding their school accountable, past Brandeis students were able to force their institution to reflect student values. Current students now have the same opportunity in fighting climate change with divestment.
Look, we won a 3-year suspension from fossil fuels because we demanded it. If we let our administration off the hook during this time we will not win divestment: the administration will revert back to what is standard— monopolizing off of climate change and the consequences of it. It is our job as students to realize our power and take down an industry that has historically taken advantage of marginalized communities and continues to prioritize profit over human lives. We do not have any time to waste in solving this climate crisis and frankly, I’m tired of waiting.
Note: for any students interested in supporting Brandeis’ divestment campaign, Brandeis Climate Justice meets every Thursday at 8 pm in Pearlman 113.