Why I Believe in Divestment

By Grace Cooper

Before I came to Tufts I had never heard the word “divestment”. I was first introduced to the term when I attended Tufts Climate Action’s general interest meeting and listened as past members talked about the history of Tuft’s divestment campaign. After that meeting I knew that divestment meant taking our investments out of fossil fuel companies, which made sense to me, but I didn’t quite understand the importance of divestment or why these students were so passionate about the campaign. As I became more involved with Tufts Climate Action I slowly began to realize just what divestment could do. Yes, Tufts divesting would take about 70 million dollars out of the fossil fuel industry and protect our university from losing money to the carbon bubble, but divestment is more than just about money, in fact the money is probably the least important part. Taking those 70 million dollars out of fossil fuels is a statement. It is taking away fossil fuel companies’ social license to operate by showing the world that it is immoral to profit off of industries that are mainly responsible for destroying our planet and that commit acts of injustice against vulnerable communities. The more I learned about the benefits of divestment from my peers the more it made sense to me, and as it made more sense to me the more I wanted to become a part of the campaign.

What surprised me is that last year Tuft’s Board of trustees refused to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in the next five years. I had always had the impression that the university I applied to was environmentally responsible. This façade came from the eco-reps, recycling bins all over campus, compost in the dining halls, the farmers market and more. But behind all of these little gestures, the school I was proud to attend was shoveling millions of dollars into the very industries that are destroying the earth and did absolutely nothing to change their ways after the very people who are providing their income through extremely high tuition asked them to stop. Part of me is surprised by this, and part of me isn’t. So many people believe that recycling or taking shorter showers will solve all of our climate problems. In the same way, Tufts thinks that if we have recycling bins on campus its ok to profit off of fossil fuel industries. Thankfully my amazing co-members of Tufts Climate Action have stood up and said no, it is not ok. I could not be more proud to join these heroic students in their fight to create meaningful change by guiding our university towards socially and environmentally responsible practices.

Oil, Hoax, and Gas

The Hoax

This Thursday, October 16, 2014, a strange article was circulated claiming that Tufts University is divesting from oil companies while drilling for a recently-discovered pocket of natural gas under Curtis Hall. It further announced that Tufts would be selling the gas to British Petroleum, which would also sponsor a petroleum engineering center as part of the Chemistry Department in Pearson Hall. Upon closer inspection and communication with President Monaco, it was determined that the article was a hoax.

President Monaco let's us know that it's a hoax.

President Monaco let’s us know that it’s a hoax.

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A hoax, I tell you!

 

 

Digging for Truth

A few other hints further elucidated the article’s phony nature: it was posted on bostonglobetoday.com, not bostonglobe.com, the Globe’s real website. The article’s comment section could not be viewed, and a disclaimer was posted above the article asking commenters to instead email the author directly (the author’s email address looked like, but was in fact not, a valid Boston Globe email address).

Students investigated the fake URL, which has so far clarified very little: it was registered on October 10, 2014 by Domains By Proxy, LLC., so no human name was given. Student members of Tufts Climate Action have since contacted reporters at the Boston Globe to ask for information and to ask if they would cover this strange hoax and the work that is actually being done on campus around divestment, natural gas, and other climate issues. One student, Ben Weilerstein, spoke with a reporter who informed him that it is unlikely the Globe would cover the story. Nonetheless, Jesse requested a link to the phony article. He also mentioned that the Globe’s lawyers might investigate the fake post, since it used the Globe’s name and logo.

 

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

A gas flare burns at a fracking site in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

The History

Today’s hoax article, as absurd and unexpected as it was, is based in the history of a campaign that has been working hard to pressure Tufts University’s Board of Trustees to remove the $70 million that it invests in the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel divestment campaign at Tufts formally began in September 2012, when a small group of students began a petition calling on the University to divest. In the beginning of fall semester 2013, over 1000 students voted in favor of fossil fuel divestment, passing a student referendum demanding divestment. This referendum, a variety of student protests, a faculty petition with almost 50 signatures and an alumna petition with over 200 signatures, forced Tufts’ administration to meet and negotiate with students. These negotiations culminated in the Trustees voting not to divest.

By choosing to continue investing in fossil fuels, Tufts is supporting an industry that causes at least 5 million deaths every year and that fundamentally alters the chemical composition of our atmosphere with numerous destructive consequences while blocking world governments’ attempts to confront this crisis.
Students are now organizing and building power to increase the pressure on Tufts’ trustees to divest from fossil fuels. Join us. Click here to sign the student petition to demand that Tufts’ divest from fossil fuels, come to our movie screening of Gasland 2, an intriguing and difficult film about fracking, and come to our weekly meetings in Miner 112 at 8:30 PM. You can contact the group on facebook or twitter and reach out directly to some of our student leaders:
Shana Gallagher (shana.gallagher@tufts.edu), Evan Bell (evan.bell@tufts.edu), Lila Kohrman-Glaser (lila.kohrman_glaser@tufts.edu) and Makaylah Respicio (makaylah.respicio@tufts.edu).

Announcement: Administration Working Group Forming to Review Divestment

Over the course of the past two semesters, Tufts Divest has been involved in ongoing talks with the administration and Board of Trustees about divestment. We are committed to working respectfully with the administration, as long as we are making progress towards creating a more sustainable endowment and a better Tufts. Today, we are pleased to say that the Tufts administration is making progress by starting a formal process to look into divestment and other ways the school can address climate change.

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President Monaco has requested that a working committee form to review several issues, including divestment and other steps Tufts can take to address the climate crisis.  The committee will have its first meeting next week!  Below is the official announcement from the Administration.

Working Group Regarding Socially Responsible Investments and Climate Change

A growing and active group at Tufts has joined a larger movement to advocate for divestment of fossil fuel companies from the Tufts Endowment Fund.  This group, known as “Tufts Divests: Students for a Just and Stable Future”, has shared a written paper and presented to the Board of Trustees Investment Committee its position that Tufts should, over a five year time period, divest from all holdings in fossil fuel companies in its endowment. The Board has indicated an interest in continuing dialogue with students to explore what proactive actions Tufts can practically take with its investments to help mitigate climate change.

In response, President Monaco has requested a small working group be established to address the issue of socially responsible investments and climate change.  The group will be comprised of three trustees, three students, three faculty members and one representative from university administration.  Trustee Laurie Gabriel will chair the group. The purpose is to explore opportunities for Tufts to engage in effective and financially reasonable efforts to combat global climate change.  This work would include three identified areas:

  1. Creating an understanding of what is involved in divesting from fossil fuel companies, including  the financial and structural impacts , while respecting the limitations on disclosure of specific investment information;
  2. Exploring the possibility of establishing a fund with a commitment to socially responsible investing;
  3. Considering what other advocacy efforts Tufts can undertake or support to encourage public policy that will limit climate change and global warming.

Working Group Members:

Laurie Gabriel, Trustee

Bill O’Reilly, Trustee

Andrew Safran, Trustee

Andrew Peng, Student representative from ACER

Lila Kohrman-Glaser, Student representative from Tufts Divest

Devyn Powell, Student representative from Tufts Divest

Kelly Sims Gallagher, Faculty Fletcher

R. Bruce Hitchner, Faculty Arts & Sciences

Ann Rappaport, Faculty Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning

Patricia Campbell, Executive Vice President

Press Release: Tufts Students Meet with Trustees to Demand Fossil Fuel Divestment

from gofossilfree.org

Here’s a press release from the divestment crew at Tufts about a big meeting they just had with their board of trustees: 

Boston, MA—Early Thursday morning, students with the group Tufts Divest for our Future met for the first time with the Investment Committee of Tufts University’s Board of Trustees to discuss divesting the endowment from fossil fuels.

While four students engaged in dialogue with the Board members, over forty other students and community members stood outside the meeting with signs. The group supports divestment as a method to draw attention to the conflict between the fossil fuel industry’s business plan and the hope of preserving a stable climate system.

In the meeting, the Trustees told students that roughly 5% of Tufts’ endowment is invested in fossil fuels. They made it clear that divestment would be a “challenging and difficult” process crequiring serious financial consideration, but invited the students to meet with them again in two weeks.

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“We appreciate the administration’s willingness to communicate with us and continue discussion,” said Anna Lello-Smith, a junior at Tufts who was among the group of four students that met with the Board. “At the same time, there is very little time left to combat the climate crisis. We hope the Board understands the urgency of the problem and acts with similar urgency themselves.”

Tufts Divest for Our Future began its fossil fuel divestment campaign last September, asking the university to divest from the top 200 oil, coal, and gas corporations that possess the majority of the world’s carbon reserves. After a semester of teach-ins and workshops, over 1,100 students and 185 alumni have signed petitions in support of divestment.

The Tufts campaign is part of a nationwide movement with over 200 other colleges and universities. The movement, supported by 350.org and other organizations such as Cambridge-based Better Future Project, won early victories last fall when Unity College and the City of Seattle announced intentions to divest.

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Making Friends Amongst Activists

By Sabrina McMillin, class of 2015

It was the summer of 2012, and as I gingerly opened the heavy envelope containing the book for that year’s Common Reading program, I knew that even though I was a transfer student and did not know how to fit in amongst the peachy young freshmen and the returning students, I would somehow find my place. The book in question, Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, covered various environmental issues without being too esoteric for a non-science major like myself. To be honest, the book is what first sparked my strong interest in climate change and environmental conservation. Even though I was aware of the importance of conservation, being the first person in my house to advocate for recycling during my childhood, I never connected the issues we face as the de facto “groundskeepers” of Earth to the many breaches of human rights. But Ms. Leonard’s work has challenged me, and likely other Tufts students, to question the inefficiencies and greed that pervade the American economy and hurt our chances at a sustainable future on this planet and amongst humanity.

When I signed up on the Tufts Divest for Our Future e-mailing list, I figured it would be just like any other club: I’d get some e-mails, maybe attend a few special events here and there, and carry on with my life. But a simple writing mistake on my part (I absentmindedly wrote “@gmail.com” instead of “@tufts.edu”) led me to a personal interaction on Facebook with Dan Jubelirer, a co-founder of the group. After having discussed the mistake, my proper e-mail address was added to the list and I had a decent conversation with Dan, who struck me as very bright, kind, and steadfast in his recruiting abilities. Though I had missed the first meeting, Dan encouraged me to attend the next one.

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Tufts Divest having fun. Feeling unusually obligated due to our conversation and with Ms. Leonard’s lessons on the mind, I decided to give Divestment a shot. I had admittedly expected a group of deadpan activists with a nihilistic attitude towards life (hey, they were fighting climate change, after all), but what I encountered were several of the most interesting, passionate, funny, and intelligent peers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I soon assimilated into the group as a regular member and eventually became one of its social media team leaders.

Tufts Divest for Our Future has serious goals. But one of the things I love about being a part of it is never having to stress out if I’m sick or too busy with homework to miss a meeting. My favorite activists are truly understanding, and if you’re interested in joining, you don’t have to fear being yelled at for taking some time off. The truth is, some people come and go, but the effort of the group is unwavering and focused. Although I would like to avoid an arrest record, I read in awe as I found that two of my group friends, Emily Edgerly and Shea Riester, made national news when they were arrested for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline at the TransCanada office in Westborough, MA.

The truth is, I could never be as daring and self-sacrificing as some of my fellow Divestment friends are. I am merely a behind-the-scenes person, helping out with social media and enjoying the time spent together. And when the famous Annie Leonard visited the Tufts campus in Medford for a lecture in October, I was able to partake in an unforgettably interesting conversation with her, amongst a few of my newly found friends.

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Ms. Leonard even signed my copy of her book with a personal message!

Whether we’re sitting in a meeting and plotting strategies or simply playing a third round of Bananagrams, I look around the room and know that I have found my place at Tufts. Now I challenge you, dear reader, to check out Tufts Divest in Our Future. We’re holding our first meeting of the spring semester on Monday, January 21st at 9 PM in the East Hall lounge. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a die-hard activist, give it a try. You may just meet some of your future friends.

Just Before Spring Semester, a Look Back

In recent weeks, the nation has seen the fervor mounting over the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, and the Jumbos invested – if you’ll forgive the pun – in such issues have been paying keen attention. In a way, these recent events could turn out to serve as a great crescendo, a gathering-up of momentum, to usher in the new spring semester at Tufts; and with it, a new surge of advocacy for divestment of our university’s endowment from fossil fuels corporations. But before that rapidly-approaching arrival of the future – classes resume on January 16th – let’s take a moment to review the work and journey of Tufts Divest since its inception in the Fall of 2012.

Making Divestment Banners

Making Divestment Banners

Most people of the environmental mindset – indeed, most Americans who haven’t been living under a rock for the past six months – remember Bill McKibben’s vigorously viral Rolling Stone article, “Climate Change’s Terrifying New Math,” published in August of last year. Readers were informed of exactly why being freaked out is, according to the arithmetic, the only rational reaction to the global warming’s trajectory. McKibben went on to suggest a specific and effective outlet for all that anxiety: divestment, a time-tested strategy in sanctioning The Powers That Be (in this case, fossil fuel corps and the investors that back them) into heeding to the concerns of the indignant observers (environmentalists and humanitarians worldwide, collegiate and otherwise).

Use of the word “terrifying” turned out to seem far from an exaggeration: to date, nearly 200 colleges and universities – and, recently, high schools and even Seattle – have formed divestment campaigns, inspiration largely thanks to McKibben-founded 350.org’s Go Fossil Free movement. Tufts’ began this past September, and one of the first actions was a mass petitioning effort. Short-term goals mounted larger and larger until we were eventually able to present to our administration, and greater student body, a list of over 1,000 signatures from students, alumni, and faculty, supporting removal of investment from the institutions denoted by Carbon Tracker Initiative’s list of the top 200 publicly-owned fossil fuels companies.

Official dialogue with Tufts University administration commenced early October, with divestment representatives meeting with the University’s Vice President to discuss our campaign and the issue at hand. Just a couple short weeks later was a national Day of Action for Fossil Fuel Divestment, on October 24th. We marched through campus with pro-divestment banners, spreading the word about the campaign, culminating with a banner drop in the campus center, and also draping our cement mascot Jumbo in a “Divest Now!” toga of his own.

Fossil Fuel Day of Action - Jumbo gets a divestment toga!

Fossil Fuel Day of Action – Jumbo gets a divestment toga!

Throughout the semester, we organized several “teach-in’s,” sharing information about the movement, climate change science, the economics and intentions of divestment, and other relevant topics. Along with Students for a Just and Stable Future (SJSF), Tufts Divest joined the Better Future Project for a gathering of climate activists, including McKibben himself, in early October. Members of the divestment campaign also met this author of the fossil fuels divestment movement when 350.org’s nationwide Do The Math tour made its stop in Boston in mid-November.

Collaborations with SJSF continued through the semester, including participation in the Vigil to End Climate Silence, October 23rd to the 30th. This weeklong stakeout and rally at Government Center in downtown Boston featured a lineup of speakers and sought to both draw widespread attention to climate issues, as well as urge then-senatorial hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown to speak out on the need for governmental and policy action to deal with the climate crisis. Finally, amidst all these other projects, Tufts Divest – along with our post-grad partners of the Tufts Alumni for Fossil Fuel Divestment – was hard at work craftingan official proposal to the Tufts Board of Trustees, with demands and recommendations for divestment of the Tufts University endowment from fossil fuel corporations. The proposal advocates reinvestment into companies which exhibit social responsibility and promote societal welfare.

As we move forward into the Spring semester of 2013, Tufts Divest is looking to hit the ground running. We look forward to our Fossil Fuel Divestment Teach-In later this month; to expanding student awareness and support on campus; and to using our position of privilege, and our unique student power, to keep up the fight for climate justice.

–K.C.